Saturday, September 26, 2009

PDX Art: Interview with Molly Dilworth

Variation (City)
From the perspective of the satellite, the urban rooftop landscape looks like a quarantine site: apparently unchanging, contained and secure. As with any system existing in an environment of flux, there are (literally) cracks in the surface, the boundary between the inhabited and off-limit space is constantly breached by water, plant, animal and human life.


The primary concern in my work is the relevance of painting in contemporary society. For me, this includes the interaction of paint and the digital world, specifically satellite technology using the Google Earth interface. My goal is to work with experts from various disciplines (solar-reflective paint engineers, green building engineers), and use real problems in the world today – like the waste stream from industry – as a starting point for projects.

Molly Dilworth is a painter who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Since earning her MFA from NYU in 2003 Dilworth has exhibited and performed nationally and internationally.
In 2008 Dilworth exhibited and performed painting as part of SUDDENLY: WHERE WE LIVE NOW, an ongoing set of visual art exhibitions, a reader, and a series of public programs (Portland 2008, Pomona College Museum of Art 2009, Seattle 2009). She has collaborated with Marina Zurkow to create the installation Psychaedelis Domesticus (Istanbul, Turkey, 2007). With MK Guth Dilworth performed Red Shoe Delivery Service (Australia, England, USA, 2003-2006). In June 2008, her work was featured in an article by Stephanie Snyder in Art Lies Magazine. In the fall of 2008 she was a visiting artist and professor at the Pacific Northwest College of art in Portland, Oregon. The 2009 exhibition Molly Dilworth: Dispersion in the Feldman Gallery at PNCA featured paintings made during her residency there. In September 2009 she will create a rooftop painting for Google Earth Brooklyn Suite (Poured Paintings V2/Rooftop) for the D.U.M.B.O Art Under the Bridge Festival.

Hi Molly here it goes

What’s your background in Art?

I was really restless from age 16 to 23, I moved all over the place to study painting, glassblowing and weaving in Albuquerque, Detroit and Seattle. I’ve always restlessly made things my whole life but it’s taken a long time to focus my hands and mind in the same direction.

What is your connection to Portland and how did you end up in NY?

I moved to NYC from Seattle in 2001 to attend grad school at NYU. There were two Portland artists in the program -MK Guth and Cris Moss – the three of us worked on Red Shoe Delivery Service together after finishing school, I got a great introduction to the Portland art world through those two. I’ve always loved Portland and feel honored to be an itinerant citizen in the city.

What moves you as an artist?

Anything I can really feel.

What labels are you comfortable with like are you satisfied being a painter?

For a long time I fought everything about being a painter, I believed that everyone is trained in drawing and painting then eventually graduates to become Laurie Anderson, or John Cage. A few years ago I gave up my materials and my studio, and started curating and performing. It was time to use my brain –not just my hands - and move out into the world instead of working alone in the studio. I found out while walking through the Met while interviewing an artist for a show that all the paintings were as interesting as today’s headlines to me. I had to concede that I was a painter, like it or not.
I just spent 8 days, 10-12 hours a day working on a black roof – really physical, dirty work - it made me think about how artists in the 70’s called themselves workers rather than dancers, painters or defining themselves by a discipline.
It’s from another era, but I can really understand that through the work I’m making now.
I do find the conversation (or lack of) around painting really frustrating. Good friends of mine who are in the trenches of contemporary art have often told me they don’t know how to talk about painting. After having this conversation about a thousand times I was motivated to make work that could be talked about by someone who didn’t want to talk about painting. I prefer to talk to everyone, and have real conversations, and do an end-run around non-starters like ‘watercolor or oil? Landscape or figure?’

How do you develop your themes?

When I discovered that I really was a painter I was embarrassed to find that after painting for more than a decade I still didn’t know what I was doing. At all. So I set up a series of experiments or systems to address all the problems and questions I had about painting.
For example, if a painting wasn’t working I always had a series of color combinations which would ‘fix’ the work. The painting wasn’t any good, it was just sort of limping along with lots of bandages. So I made a rule about my palette: I couldn’t choose it.
I was working for a handmade wallpaper company in Queens at the time, and we threw out literally tons of Golden acrylics. I started using only that paint for my palette. It was difficult since most of the paint was mid-tones: beige, grey. Suddenly I had an interesting problem to work on, instead of pulling the same old tricks out of my sleeve.
It was a lot more fun, and I learned a lot of new tricks!
It turns out I’ve always loved things that have been used before they’re in my hands. I always feel a bit blank when I’m looking at a new canvas bought from the art store. I know the material has had life before me but that life is masked by packaging, and that makes me uncomfortable. I find it easier to use materials that have an obvious previous history, so using materials from the waste stream – another one of my rules – is something that has always worked for me.

What is the civic psyche and how can Art influence it?

Humans just need art, I can’t think of any other reason that we still make it. Attendance at museums went up sharply in New York after September 11th. As a culture we’re not trained to think about art so we think it’s elitist, which is unfortunate since we’re apparently programmed to need it. I’m not a neurobiologist, so I can’t explain why, but I know art (and music, literature and sport for that matter) is good for the civic psyche.

How has the relevance of Art changed over the last 50 years or so?

I take the long view. American art has a large voice that was much smaller a half-century ago, and it’s an industry now – not just galleries and museums but educational institutions, shippers and publishers. – but in the end people have always made art and fought about what it means.

They say “Nothing” doesn’t exist do you agree?

To me, nothing is a zero point from which everything grows. I think resetting to nothing is generative, the opposite of having an attachment to a particular outcome for a project. Nothing is like the perfect pop song in its artlessness and satisfaction.

“Mapping” has become a new code word, what does it mean to you and how do you incorporate it into your art pieces?

Oh, well – we need maps like we need art – just for different purposes. I made a map (except I think of it as a plan) of the rooftop painting before I started it. Of course, I didn’t follow it exactly – sometimes you get more lost when you follow the map religiously.

Do you collaborate with other artists from different disciplines?

Yes, and non-artists too.

What does “Waste” mean to you?

America! We’re professional wasters.

Can you tell me about the project you are working on right now and how can people follow your progress?

I’m currently making paintings on rooftops for Google Earth, I just finished the first one in Brooklyn this September, and plan on making a lot more. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the digital-virtual world affects us psychically and physically, this painting is the first large-scale public manifestation of that physical-virtual marriage. I post all my work regularly to my flickr page. ( I’m also embarrassingly active on facebook, but I try to keep it mostly professional, no breakfast-menu updates!

You have started to include the On-line world as a platform to present your concepts.
How has that influenced or expanded the way you see what is an appropriate back drop for Art and who is the targeted audience?

A few years ago I worked in Chelsea and had a hard time seeing the shows, since the galleries all keep the same schedule. I saw most shows – even the ones on my block – online. It’s not the same as seeing the work in person but it’s an incredible second choice. I mentioned that I want to have an interesting conversation with everyone, the internet is good for that.

Can you tell me a little about “The Naked City”?

Today we’re so comfortable with the International Style that we forget it ever faced opposition. After WWII, all of Europe had to be rebuilt and The Situations viewed the International plan as top-down, inhumane and dictatorial - a continuation of the ideology that caused all the devastation.

The Naked City can be seen as a predecessor to the traffic calming or slow/local food movement – essentially a preference for the accident and chance present in daily life if aimless wandering is allowed. A modern equivalent is the farmer’s market – I can have real conversations, learn things and get recipes – whereas at Safeway I just get the stuff, and maybe an empty feeling.
Just the other day I went out for groceries and ran into a Richard Serra sculpture in the middle of my street.
Of course, I immediately posted it to facebook. But if I hadn’t gone out in the world, I wouldn’t have anything to share on facebook. Nor could I find Serra’s warehouse any other way, I looked it up online when I got home and I only found one blog posting of someone else who had accidentally witnessed the last time the pieces were moved.
The Situationists were advocates of the happy accident provoked by the dérive, or drift. Guy Debord named his famous psychogeographical map “The Naked City” (1957), it was a visualization of these Situationist ideas.

I think of the Naked City circa 2009 as the physical world without a digital overlay – anything we experience with our bodies. A moonlight bike ride, the smell of fall, a car crash, a first kiss – nothing virtual about any of that! Not that I’m in any way anti-technology, I’m making paintings for satellites, after all.

What is the potential for Virtual space and how will it affect the future of the human race?

We’re all going to have carpal tunnel! Start working on ‘prayer pose’ now. I recently heard about a community who are building exercise machines to power their electronic devices. They want to fight the dangerous leisure that our machines have given us. I do think it’s fundamentally changing our language and behavior, as all new technology does. But we’re still animals, after all.

What is on the Art horizon for you and can we expect to see one of your projects being realized here in Portland?

I have another 12 rooftops to finish in Brooklyn before the winter sets in, that’s keeping me pretty busy right now.
I’d love to make some rooftop paintings in Portland, I have a few places in mind but if anyone wants me to make one, please contact me. The night I finished the first painting in Brooklyn everyone said ‘oh it would be so great to have a cluster of these on rooftops all around!’ Marking a territory in this way is very interesting to me. I want to work with others, roofing contractors and choreographers for example, to expand what I can do visually and conceptually.

thanks Molly

All the documentation of my first rooftop painting for Google Earth (finished last Sunday!) can be seen here.

contact Molly Dilworth at

Molly Dilworth
158 Norman #1, Brooklyn, NY 11222 646.515.5161
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