Molly Dilworth, Public Artist, Paints a River in Times Square


If you live in New York, you probably only pass through Times Square to transfer subway lines — or to rush into your place of work, head down, all business. But you should really take a moment to check out Molly Dilworth’s new 50,000-square-foot public art project, “Cool Water, Hot Island.” She’s painting the asphalt throughout the public spaces in Times Square to resemble a rippled graphic river with varying shades of blue in stenciled waves.

“I wanted something that didn’t look like an ad, but that could feel soothing or calm,” Dilworth says. “It’s a public park so I wanted that to feel like a step outside. You go to a park to relax, to take a breath, and chill out.”

Dilworth’s design was chosen out of 150 proposals. The DOT, Times Square Alliance, the Mayor’s Office, and the Design Commission, along with an outside artist as adviser, chose her as the winner in May. “I was really surprised. I am an artist so I apply for tons of things all the time,” she says. “I’m used to rejection…I actually thought my design was too complicated.”

Now that her project is very real and halfway finished, how does she feel? “It’s really strange. I mean, it’s really great. It’s a little surreal. It is really odd.”

Known best for her large-scale rooftop paintings, which she started making last year, Dilworth is experienced at big art — just not this big: “The thing about scale is you learn quickly. You kind of have to experience it. ” She made her rooftop paintings so that they could be visible via digital satellites on Google Earth. “I wanted to make a physical thing in digital space,” she says. “Then I realized Google Earth doesn’t update that often.”

With her current Times Square work, as with her rooftop art, the interaction with physical space remains important, as do her own interactions with her surroundings while creating the project. “I think it’s a real luxury to have people walking by. There are people who don’t like this project in Times Square, and that’s fine. If there are real problems, I like to fix them,” she says. “You have to grow a thick skin, but sometimes [comments are] really helpful.”

Dilworth explains that being a painter can be seclusive. “It feels like you’re not part of the conversation or everyday culture,” she says. But her public works bring her artistry to a larger audience. “Maybe people who would never walk into a museum would go on Google Earth.” Also, as with all public art, there’s the oddly improvisational nature to it, like, maybe, a river itself. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Things change, like sometimes we have to go around a manhole,” Dilworth says.

If you visit Times Square in the next few weeks as Dilworth finishes the project, you may even run into her working with her crew of five or six city employees. That’s what’s nice about public art — it’s like a Q&A session with the artist all day long.

Check Dilworth’s progress on the Times Square webcams.