Brooklyn-Based Artist Nathan Dilworth on His All-Inclusive Approach to Art-Making
On an October morning in Nathan Dilworth’s Gowanus, Brooklyn studio, warm light cuts across the walls and floor, illuminating works stacked on every surface. Most of the paintings, prints, and sculptural pieces that line the space are due to travel across the Manhattan Bridge the next day, destined for Dilworth’s third show with LAUNCH F18, the first in their new location on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Once in the generously sized gallery “they’ll have a little bit of breathing room,” says Dilworth, with a sigh of relief. But, until then, the works are butted up against each other and the materials that made them (paints, bolts of fabric, wooden beams, a camera). Their cozy proximity highlights Dilworth’s reflexive, regenerative process, where some pieces—and the refuse left behind during their creation—are used to build others.
As the artist takes me around his studio, we settle on a large-scale UV print on vinyl that covers the entire east wall. It depicts a piece of carved wood, splattered with paint, against the gray studio floor. Dilworth had removed a massive diagonal area from the image, interrupting the shape of the wood. The resulting work layers the geometry of the discarded wood (originally an artifact left behind in the process of making a different piece) with an intentional gesture—the cut.
The work is part of an ongoing series by the Texas-born artist that combines spontaneous images taken in his studio with decisive cuts that result in large areas of negative space. The results are reminiscent of Fontana but arise from a different place. “I don’t think of these cuts as aggressive acts,” he explains. “In the best situation, disrupting the image actually makes the piece more inclusive—it opens up to include the wall and a more expansive range of colors; it enhances its physicality.”
If Dilworth’s approach had to be summed up with a single word, “inclusive” might well fit the bill. Very little is discarded in his practice; almost everything that is cut away from one work finds its way into another. As we approach a different piece, a swooping wooden sculpture made from long, thin pieces of wood joined together to resemble an abstract line drawing manifested in 3D, Dilworth explains the origin of the paint that blots the work’s surface: “This is standalone piece, but right now, I'm actually using it to make a large print.” Like a woodcut or a massive stamp, he applies paint to the contours of the sculpture, then rubs it onto a flat substrate to create a painted pattern. “It could be that print that ends up working, or it could be that the original sculpture ends up working. Who knows?” he adds. Dilworth revels in this kind of uncertainty.
In the end, the spindly wooden creation ends up working very well as a sculpture and takes center stage in the show at LAUNCH F18, leaning against a white wall. Around it, iterations of Dilworth’s experiments—hybrids of process and product—proliferate. The UV print on vinyl (Untitled, 2015) also commands its own wall. Another large-scale print (Nine Palms, 2015) covers the connecting floor, like a rug, with an image of hard-edged shapes interrupted by oblong cut-outs that reveal the concrete ground beneath, connecting Dilworth’s artwork to the architecture that surrounds it.
In another area of the exhibition, plywood shapes marked with scuffs and paint that some artists might leave behind in the studio become geometric sculptures, sitting casually on the floor. It’s a diverse cohort of works, but they all grow from Dilworth’s central interest: “to investigate how a form, object, or artwork finds definition,” he explains. “I’m curious about how all the different steps that go into creating something and all the things that are discarded on the way complement one another.”
Not far off, a folded concoction of denim, paint, and board, resembling a deconstructed painting, spreads across the ground. This leads to two untitled paintings made from floral-patterned fabric and covered with oil stick applied with forceful gestures. When I ask Dilworth why he chose to use a patterned fabric instead of a traditional canvas as his substrate, he is typically nonchalant, but manages to sum up the drive behind his delightfully elastic body of work. “I wanted to incorporate something that didn't come from me—that came from someplace completely different. To me, the idea of having a variety of intentions and a variety of conflicting ideas involved in one work is important,” he explains. “Because that’s what the world is. It’s a bunch of people’s ideas, and their will, and their effort to try to do something. And all of those ideas and energies overlapping on the material world is what we walk around in every day.” In this way, Dilworth’s explorations of process extend beyond the studio, applying not only to how an object finds definition, but also how life is shaped—the accumulation and constant recycling of experiences, aesthetics, and ideologies that build up around us.