Journal: Molly Dilworth: Thumbnail

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I grew up in southeast Michigan in a town called Chelsea. I live in the Bronx now.

Do you feel like Michigan features in your practice at all?

In the last four to five years I’ve started bringing a lot of the hand/craft work I learned growing up into the studio. All these techniques were something I never stopped using, I just always did it privately since it seemed embarrassing in the context of fine art. I was scared to use it in the studio, and facing this (admittedly ridiculous) fear was important to me. I grew up learning to weave on my Mom’s Cranbrook loom, and just this summer I started weaving on an unlovely little hand loom I built from scrap wood.

You have a particularly unique process for creating your artwork, working between painting and sculpture - what led you to this process and how did you know it was the right one to pursue?

I had began making sculptures, mostly rickety collages of materials, for a couple of years when I started working on a commission for a building in Portland, OR. Because the project was made for a building under construction, the site conditions for the artwork kept changing so things that started as paintings turned into sculptures, and sometimes back to paintings. This translation process lead to a different method of construction - more like solving a puzzle than assemblage.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

In the past few years I’ve made many more 3D things alongside the paintings, and they’ve started to inform each other. I’ve just started making small weavings which incorporate the languages of both the paintings and sculptures. Some of the public art I’ve been making is becoming more dimensional, and I’d like to push that further.

When did you begin your current practice?

I actually gave up painting when I started working on Red Shoe Delivery Service, and started curating and performing. Somehow painting crept back in, and then public art, and now craft. A friend has been mentoring me on simple animations but I’m getting a little worried about too many directions at once. This summer I started wood carving in addition to weaving so I may need to reel it in.

What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?

Textiles and patterns always find their way in there, this vernacular culture and non-verbal communication that all cultures use and, to some extent, use to communicate cross-culturally. Global trade, waste, and ethics are all on my mind and come up in research, materials, and writing. Sometimes it’s frustrating that my work reads as ‘only’ decorative, and not a commentary on how these materials that suddenly lose their value mirrors how people and places can be overlooked and thrown away by our society. I have a writer friend who reminds me that beauty is also important and necessary, so I try not to worry.

Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist?

I’m fascinated with the writing of Teju Cole, he’s such an elegant, subtle bomb thrower. His book Blind Spot, which is equal parts photo and text, builds a third thing which is more than both. It’s extraordinary and I’ve never experienced anything like it. I have favorite research books like Marc Levinson’s The Box, about the advent of the shipping container, and Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns which changed how I think about this country. I’m a big podcast listener, I like interview shows where people talk about how they do what they do, and have all over the place taste in music.

Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?

I think about and look at a lot of artwork, there’s an incredible Morris Lewis up at the Whitney that I’ve visited three or four times to figure out how how he did it and what makes it so great. I also visit an ingenious slate Isamu Noguchi sculpture when I go. I had never seen it before this summer and it’s such a satisfying puzzle. But a lot of what inspires me is just what I see on the street - those accidental civic sculptures of a traffic cone and some wood that blew into a pothole, textures and patterns of clothes, a tree somehow surviving in the masonry of a six-story building.

Do you find that environment relates to your work?

Living in small spaces in New York made my work small and portable. Ironically, it also made it gigantic and permanent. I think my work is more influenced by a set of conditions than a location, but it can be difficult to be self-aware about these things. I love both routine and surprise, so often great work happens on short trips away from home or in new spaces.

Where do you want to travel?

I have a good friend who spends a lot of time in Senegal and can’t wait to visit with her.

A lot of what inspires me is just what I see on the street - those accidental civic sculptures of a traffic cone and some wood that blew into a pothole, textures and patterns of clothes, a tree somehow surviving in the masonry of a six-story building.

Molly Dilworth

What necessities do you require when making your art?

It depends on what I’m working on. At the moment, I’m making a lot of sculpture with paper pulp so a hand blender and paper shredder are in heavy rotation. I generally work in series so what is necessary depends on the project at hand. I always need podcasts, music or the radio - I hear some people can work in silence but that’s not me.

How do you choose your materials?

My materials are a combination of things I’ve used since I was a kid - textiles, yarn, thread - and found things, mostly the vast volume of excess materials that no longer have a useful life in commerce. With my sculptures, I’m often looking for a certain shape or volume of something, but I don’t know what material form that thing will take until I find it.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.

Unless I’m in production there’s no typical day, but I always think, write, and problem-solve best in the morning. Research, daydreaming, and repetitive tasks happen in the afternoon when I’m the least focused and figuring things out and innovation happens in the late afternoon or evening.

How did you arrive at this schedule? What does "innovation" entail?

The schedule came from working different jobs for years, fitting art making in the available hours, and noticing what worked and what didn’t - basically from observing my mind and its rhythms. By innovation, I mean surprising myself, or figuring out something I’ve been stuck on for a while. It happens with writing, too - sometimes it’s so difficult to translate ideas that are so clear in my mind into words. Most people can relate to how painful this can be. So I pay attention to the times of the day that are more amenable to solving one problem or another.

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

Especially in the sculptures, it’s hard for me to tell if an element I have an emotional connection to is working, and abandoning it if it isn’t.

How do you incorporate chance in your creative process?

Because I’m interested in very specific content and don’t want to illustrate those ideas, much of my process, including materials and palette selection, is left to chance. I’m often trying to solve a practical problem, like how to attach one thing to another, and I experiment with materials that I think might work instead of using proven methods. This can be frustrating but it’s great for discovering new materials and inventing techniques.

How does your choice of color inform the final piece?

When I’m working with a set palette I start to get a sense of how certain combinations of colors work as I go. In large bodies of work like Soft Power it’s always fun, and a continuation of each painting, to arrange how they will all be shown together. For Soft Power, I often organize them chronologically into groupings of months since that’s how they were made.

With the paintings in 'Soft Power', to what extent did you plan the compositions, palette, or materials?

The palette is determined by the materials I chose – the colors that came in the pack, the colored pencils I bought in a lot on Ebay, and whatever came in the gouache set – though I make choices within those materials. I didn’t use any of the metallic or neon gouache set, for example.

The compositions are made on a rolling basis, and begin from drawings made daily in a sketchbook. There, too I edit - only the most interesting drawings get turned into paintings. There are a lot of orphans, but I work best when I’m moving through these decisions quickly, and editing later. That said, I often pursue some of the ones I consider not good, since I learned I’m often wrong, and people sometimes respond to ones I don’t like, or don’t love my favorites the way I do.

What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?

In Soft Power, I was only drawing things that came through my computer screenresearch about trade routes, international shipping, fulfillment centers, and online shopping. I’m really interested in how everything gets flattened in digital space – items of various size have the same scale, for example. And if you’ve ever worked in catalog photography you know that clothing is styled for the flat plane of the camera lens. When the model turns around the viewer sees a mess of clamps and pins. So much of what we take in today comes through this beautifully art-directed, amorphous, and constantly available portal which obscures the labor that makes the whole system possible.

How important is spontaneity in your art?

I really like control and routine in my life, so in the studio there is a lot of spontaneity and play to counterbalance my natural inclination to repeat and replicate.

So much of what we take in today comes through this beautifully art-directed, amorphous, and constantly available portal which obscures the labor that makes the whole system possible.

Molly Dilworth

Are you formally trained?

I had wanderlust, and so went to many schools for undergrad, and went to NYU for my MFA. I’ve had great teachers and mentors, some in school, but many more at different jobs and just living in the world. Sometimes I feel sad that I never was taken under the wing of a professor in all the institutions I attended, but I think if you’re really looking you find the people you need, and not necessarily where you expected to find them.

Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?

I’m constantly looking at and being inspired by my peers and people working now, to me it’s part of understanding the world around me. I listen to a lot of podcasts, on art and other topics, go look at work in person, have studio visits with friends and travel to see work. I’m basically a huge art nerd, interested in all kinds of work. Most recently I was in Tulsa, OK for a fellowship and got to know the art of the other fellows, and the different collections of institutions in the region. The work was varied, and most of it was unknown to me before I went there. I’m currently working at a shared studio residency in my neighborhood called Tri Try Again Studios, run by two wonderful artist makers Adam Dowis and Julie Evanoff. Everyone there is so generous, curious, and happy to share and problem-solve. I feel very lucky to have been involved with that community.

In the mid 2000’s I had a project with my friends MK Guth and Cris Moss called Red Shoe Delivery Service, which was the only official collaborative project I’ve been involved with. It started as a casual conversation and grew into a project that took us to England and Australia. This project taught me so much, mostly what I can and can’t do, and how to recognize the skills of and communicate with others. It fundamentally changed the way I work.

Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?

When I was in elementary school, my music textbook had some photos of Henry Moore and Giacometti sculptures. At that age I didn’t understand that the actual sculptures I saw at the Detroit Institute of Arts were famous works by these artists, and thought maybe these were copies or fakes. It didn’t occur to me that art was a tangible thing out there that I could see in person. I also remember seeing an Impressionist show as a kid and wondering how they managed their 10’ paintbrushes.

What’s one of your favorite objects you own?

I have an afghan crocheted by my great grandmother, a few years ago my mom replaced all the fringe and sent it to me. I’ve moved around a lot, and things come and go so it’s nice to have this time-traveling object in my home.

Because I’m interested in very specific content and don’t want to illustrate those ideas, much of my process, including materials and palette selection, is left to chance.

Molly Dilworth

Is there any artwork on display in your home/studio? Whose is it?

I have a great photo by Matt Jensen, a photo sculpture by Parsley Steinweiss, a gold porcelain bowl by Akiko Jackson, a photo painting by Lauren Gidwitz, a dreamy photo by Freya Powell, also a necklace that’s really a tiny sculpture by Oasa DuVerney.

Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I have an unfashionable fascination with Wal-mart, and not just because I’ve always wanted to make infrared-reflective paintings for the roofs of their stores and distribution centers. I’ve been asking for years but I’m still waiting to find the person who will let me pitch it to them.

What’s next for you?

I’m finishing work for a 3 person show with Deric Carner and Scott Kiernan called Category 6 opening September 28 at Radiator Gallery in Long Island City.

Journal: Molly Dilworth: Gallery
Painting at the James Hotel, New York, NY. Credit: Lucien Samaha.

Updated August 31, 2023.