NEW TO OUR MUSE SERIES: We put together a guide that lists our muses's businesses, art, or merchandise that you can eat, drink, collect, or support. Click here for the guide.
Alison Dilworth is the latest muse, part of our portrait/interview series with Emily "Birdie" Busch.
Birdie's challenge is to tease out candid responses from fellow artistic, industrious women. What muses! A link to all the interviews is at the end of this page.
When preparing to do a large-scale mural in 2020 you have to sit with a broad spectrum of feelings before bringing the vision to the wall. But that kind of process has been something visual artist Alison Dilworth has never avoided as a focal point in her practice. She has always been curious about how people grieve to allow for healing and I’d like to say I consider it a superpower of hers, or rather superhuman power!
She has an incredible amount of channels through which she makes art. At the heart of it are stacks of thick self-bound books that act as personal visual journals for diary and documentation. She gleans pieces of the world as a crow might build a nest and weaves found paper and objects into the pages amidst her free form text and images.
A longstanding teacher for Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philly, she has worked with youth ages 5 through 19 and was formerly their Teen Lounge Coordinator for an after school program that gives space to teens from all over the city to have the opportunity to delve into their creativity and emotions while hiring their own teaching artists. I remember saying something to her about how I was so amazed at how comfortable she was with that age group and how much they were with her. But in hindsight her natural fearlessness for emotion and her rebel approach is a perfect match for helping teens work through a crucial part of their evolution.
Woven throughout inward searching and outward mentorship, Alison’s work has graced restaurants, church sanctuaries, rooftops, and homes, and even includes a collaborative book of poetry with a group of renowned Canadian poets including Leonard Cohen. Her palette is vibrant and she has a way of making a one dimensional wall sing, which is what I came to observe for this shoot with National Picnic. Her most recent mural-in-progress is at the end of a row of buildings that sit in the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue. It shines down on the future location for the soon to be open Young American Cidery and its tasting room, a space that hopes to be an epicenter for conversation and community.
This one block is part of a stretch of Northwest Philadelphia that is rich with history, from it being the original land of the Lenni Lenape to it containing the underground railroad stop The Johnson House as well as a burial ground for both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. At this juncture, it is a crossroads of contemplation for where our country has been and where it is going, or rather could go, if we are open to feeling the immense complexity of our shared humanity and everything in between. It’s a process never lost on Alison Dilworth, both now in the present moment, and throughout so much of her journey. It’s a gift to be able to observe her work through it all via the beauty of art.
Alison has a website with a lot of examples of her work I can’t recommend enough to see the vast spectrum of her work: https://www.alisondilworth.com/
What is a career/creative moment you are proud of?
You know how you can pick up your phone and suddenly, 40 minutes has vanished? Well, I keep thinking about that, and how if those 40 minutes were spent outside beneath the night sky, it would feel like a long time and I would have a memory of it. Our culture is telling us to numb out, distract, be addicted, buy into a system of capitalism that benefits the wealthy and stomps on the poor and working class, consume, disengage from real connection. When I can get out of my own way, good things happen. There is a dance that happens between the ego and the spirit, and I'm increasingly aware of the trappings of the ego and how easily humans fall prey; this is true in politics, work, and relationships. I'm not trying to "make it" as a "painter"; painting is just a vehicle of expression to me, as is book making, printmaking, collage, banging away on a typewriter, installation art, embroidery and puppets.
As I've grown older, I've learned to be less precious and to trust my own language - for me, art is a vehicle to say what I need to say, whether it's a statement, an expression of beauty, or an exploration. I suppose this is a weird and winding answer, but I'm most proud that I've figured out how to live a pretty unconventional life making art, being a mother, building strong connection with friends, and teaching at Fleisher. I'm more time-rich than money-rich, but I'll take real connections with good humans and nature any day. It's not a secure life, but I'm not built for living any other way. So I'm proud that I'm always becoming myself as an artist. I think my authenticity is going to get better as I become a weird old lady.
What are you listening to now? What are you looking at? What recipe you feeling?
I'm currently listening to Bobby McFerrin (Circlesongs), looking at the leaves changing - not just in color, but how they move as they dry up before and after falling - and feeling a pretty boss raspberry tart situation over here. I love making big pots of soup that begin by simmering onions in butter and olive oil with fresh lemon thyme and whatever herbs make sense. I bought the Zahav Cookbook for my dude last Christmas that we've poured over: tahina beets, hummus, fresh pita... every recipe in there is amazing.
How do you define your own personal style or approach to clothes?
For a long time, I worked as a bartender on Thursday nights and most of my clothes were trash picked after I closed the bar until I was racing my bike against garbage trucks in the wee hours of Friday morning and had to tell myself to get my tired body home and put the trash in the washing machine. So I guess you could say I curated my style out of Society Hill's discard pile. Someone should write a rap song about this. Anyway, everything I wear is from a thrift store or a yard sale or some kinda giveaway pile. I like old things that already have stories behind them, or new things that were made by hand, often out of vintage textiles. I find comfort in wearing hand-me-downs. I prefer bright colours, wild earrings, black layers, boots and high-waisted jeans. I love sweaters too much. I love the feeling of things that have been mended by hand over time and I have no problem with holes.
What would be your advice to a teenage girl clothing and style wise that you wish you had received?
Teenage girls, you are rad. This is a rich time of self-discovery and exploration so don't let the bastards get you down: mean, judgmental people are insecure. This culture has invested in disempowering women for generations by promoting starving models as the beauty ideal. Think about that: women so frail they probably can't menstruate as the beauty standard - literally stripping women of the power to give birth, to create, to live in their authentic, healthy bodies. We as women have to explore and own our power, and once we embody our own power, we can grow toward wisdom. That's what the guys in suits are afraid of: that we'll find our voices and exercise our power. So I guess I'd say be playful and find what feels good to YOU, what YOU feel comfortable in. Notice your beauty in places you feel self conscious about because the beauty is there, I promise. Your body is not here for other people to objectify. Your body is an extension of your being. Experiment with fabrics and colours that feel true to you. There's no such thing as a fashion risk. Just go for it.