Steve Dilworth interview: Northern Inspirations (2009)
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R.J. Preece: What would you describe as the key developments in your artistic practice?
Steve Dilworth art: Hanging figure (detail), (1979–80). Human skeleton, calf muscles, liver, and heart, horse tails, sea grass, spiky blackthorn shrub, and beef drippings, 180 cm.
Steve Dilworth: Two developments stand out for me. There is no doubt that making and showing Hanging figure (1979–80) opened all sorts of Pandora’s boxes, focusing my attitude and understanding of what sculpture can and should be. With this work, I wanted to take an animal presence and a human presence and combine them with equal respect, as we cannot separate ourselves from nature.
I’ve been trying ever since to unravel these questions and insights, to work with responsibility and integrity. Sculpture is not purely a visual art: materials possess energy and have a presence that can be manipulated by changing their shape and positioning them with other materials. A more powerful presence can be created, and objects can be made that have a power greater than their physical form. All of the object is important, whether seen or unseen, as with everything else in life.
Secondly, making Calm water (1991) had a big impact on me. It was very important because I was making something completely outside the art world. It had nothing to do with exhibitions, showing, or my artistic identity. It was designing and making something, with a purpose, for somebody. It was to be used as a contemplative, personal object to provide comfort to a friend who was dying of cancer.
R.J. Preece: Could you give examples of how you conceive your works? Does it depend on the type of work you are making?
Steve Dilworth: Some of my works begin by simply placing collected material together, a bit like placing copper and zinc together as the beginning of a battery. For example, Rook (1980), which uses bog oak, iron, and the “material” of the rook, fits into this category. Calm water is another example of all the materials relating through their history, combined together.
With Porpoise (2004–05), I came across a dead, rotting porpoise washed up on the beach below my home. I managed to extract the vertebrae, about 60 bones in all, and the skull. The skull was particularly smelly so I left it outside. This turned out to be a mistake, because a local dog started chewing it. Afterwards, I boiled and cleaned the bones and what remained of the skull, and they became the start of a new work. The whole spine was used. The 60 bones of the vertebrae were molded. Using the lost wax method, they were cast into pure sterling silver. The body was cast in bronze at Pangolin Foundry. Doing this was rather difficult, and I’m very fortunate to be able to work with a foundry of such caliber.