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Norman Dilworth's First Solo Show in Britain in Almost 30 Years Opens at Laurent Delaye
Norman Dilworth, Puff Ball and Parts of a Circle. Photo: Courtesy Laurent Delaye.

LONDON.- At 79, Norman Dilworth is still a young artist in Britain. His work has been exhibited in some of the most prestigious museums in Europe, including solo exhibitions twice at both the Mondrian House in Amersfoort, Holland, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. His latest museum retrospective was at the Musée Matisse, Cateau-Cambressis, France, in 2007.

Yet this solo show is his first in the UK since he left Britain to live in Holland in 1982. It will be followed by a long overdue solo exhibition in a public space in Britain. Curated by Andrew Bick, it will start in late Spring 2011 at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, and travel to the Huddersfield Art Gallery.

Dilworth was born in 1931 in Wigan, Greater Manchester. After studying at Wigan school of art, he gained a place at the Slade where he studied until 1956. In 1955, he won the Tonks Prize, and the following year the Sunday Times Drawing Prize. In 1956 he went to study in Paris after being awarded a French Government Scholarship. Here he was free to experiment, and became interested and influenced by the works of Cezanne, Giacometti, Feininger and Mondrian. Back in London in 1958, he embarked on a journey towards Concrete Art that was to define his entire career. Dilworth was already an important figure in contemporary art, exhibiting in the Young Contemporaries Exhibitions (1953, 1954, 1955) and the John Moores Exhibition (1959) and working with the small group of artists known as British constructivists. 

Not belonging, however, to any defined group, his work was already showing a greater affinity to a larger vision than the confine of a single movement, and his research naturally affiliated him as much with what was happening in the rest of Europe and the US as with his peers in Britain. He established strong links with Holland, and artists such as François Morellet and Kenneth Martin became close friends.

Although Britain had known something close to the early European avant-garde during its short and intense Vorticist period at the eve of WW1, its taste for pure abstraction and systems had all but vanished from 1918 onwards. The aftermath of WW2 and the national need for a fresh start gave it a new context. Suddenly again, geometrical abstraction, trumpeted by the Russian constructivists back in 1924 as “the greatest trampoline for the leap into an all-encompassing culture”, started to make sense again, as evident in the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the building of the South Bank. It was always going to be a struggle, in a country fundamentally averse to the elimination of nature in art. In 1980, however, Norman Dilworth came to bring his understanding for the ever evolving story of Concrete Art to Britain itself: by instigating and co-curating the now world acclaimed Pier + Ocean exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. Rather than a near impossible survey of Constructivism, it opted for a fresh – and global – approach to a history in continuous flux, from Minimal Art to Land Art, Conceptual Art, Arte Povera, Systems and Geometric Abstraction. Organised by artists, it eventually became a kind of work of art itself, and because of that Pier + Ocean has great significance within 20th century art history.

Norman Dilworth’s sculptures are mostly made of wood and steel. If geometry is the basis of his constructions, the tension between visual clarity and surprising forms largely defines the quality of his art. Beauty and harmony are no stranger to his work, as well as a playful taste for the chance factor. In his own words, “Play is a very important part of the activity. I believe that by organizing and manipulating the elements I am using, I discover possibilities I could not have prefigured.

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