Calm Water, 1991. Lignum vitae, old-style fishing line, and sea water sealed in a glass vial, 10 x 10 cm.

Northern Inspirations: A Conversation with Steve Dilworth

The site where an artist lives often provides inspirational material for his or her work, and such is certainly the case for Steve Dilworth. He has spent the past 25 years on the North Atlantic coast of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides in northwest Scotland, roughly equidistant from London and Iceland. Stretching into the far north and characterized by rough, windswept weather coming from the ocean, this unique environment is home to whales, porpoises, seals, and millions of birds—animals that urbanites usually see only in aquariums. Dilworth, on the other hand, can watch their daily lives unfold from the windows of his home and studio.
Over his 40-year career, Dilworth has created sculptural entombments of animals found dead on the Isle of Harris. He has also made contemplative hand-held objects, works in the land, and recently, public sculpture. Originally from Northeast England, Dilworth has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions across the U.K., and his large-scale public artworks are in many U.K. collections. Dilworth is represented by the Hart Gallery in London.

Robert Preece: I’ve traveled a bit around Iceland and Arctic Norway and feel like I have a sense of where your work comes from: the serenity, the empty beaches, the landscapes that stretch endlessly, the amazing number of birds and other wildlife. It’s their territory. Is it necessary to travel to the far north to really appreciate your work?
Steve Dilworth: There is definitely a lot of the far north in my work, but I would hope that even if someone has had no first-hand experience of these northern places that the sculptures would touch something inside. For example, even with ancient cave paintings, I think that people can relate through time to the work itself. You don’t have to be from that time to have an experience with those works. The archetypal qualities of the landscape, myths, and histories feed and run parallel as I work. Brian Catling said that I tapped archaic undercurrents, which is the same thing, I guess.

RP: When you are talking to people about your work, do they ask you about the environmental context?
SD: Sometimes people have a tactile experience, and they will say something like, “The work is beautifully made.” You can see that they feel the power and energy of the object, which I see as the core of the works. But they don’t ask a lot of questions about the environmental context, which is an obvious influence. It’s only a part, however; the internal landscape drives the work and my need to make it.