Born in 1931 in Orrell, Wigan, Norman Dilworth showed an early interest in mathematics, but was discouraged by a school prefect, and decided to pursue a career in art. He studied at Wigan School of Art from 1948-1952, then at the Slade School of Art from 1952 to 1956. Whilst at the Slade, he was attached to both the painting and sculpture departments, at the suggestion of William Coldstream. Visiting professors and lecturers included Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, and Graham Sutherland. Whilst studying, he was awarded the prestigious Tonks Prize, in 1955—in the following year, he was awarded the Sunday Times Drawing Prize. In his graduating year, he was awarded a French Government Scholarship, which allowed him to move to Paris, and continue studying. He made the acquaintance of Giacometti whilst living in Paris, visiting his studio with Tseng Yu, the Chinese artist.
Upon returning to England, Dilworth had a succession of teaching jobs, and in 1958 married Mary Webber, with whom he had three children. In this period, the strong, linear drawings that he had made in Paris hardened into painterly sculptures, and a movement towards Concrete and Systems Art. Throughout this period, he exhibited regularly in the ‘Young Contemporaries’ shows, and had his first solo exhibition in 1968. He also taught at Reading University, then at Camberwell School of Art.
In 1971, Dilworth met Kenneth Martin whilst Martin was judging a prize for a Welsh commission in Haverfordwest, beginning an influential friendship. In this same year, Dilworth had his first show in the Hague, and bought an apartment in Amsterdam, working with structures of steel rods, creating pieces such as ‘Puff Ball’ (1985), a freestanding large sphere of rods. He also worked on reliefs, playing with borders, and black and white space in his Boundary Line series.
In 1980, Dilworth was invited to co-organise the Pier + Ocean exhibition (whose title was taken from a Mondrian piece) with Gerhard von Graevenitz at the Hayward Gallery, which showed, amongst others, John Baldersarri, Carl Andre and Mario Merz. It brought together international artists who represented diverse artistic movements of the time - Geometric Abstraction, Land Art, and Minimal Art. This exhibition spawned two others, in Lodz (1981) and Munich (1982).
In 1982, he married his second wife, Christine Cadin, with whom he has had two children. They soon moved to Holland, where he held solo shows at Mondriaanhuis, and the Stedelijk Museum.
The late 70s saw Dilworth working more with wood, instead of metal. He created structures of wood stained black, as well as installations in galleries and the open air. ‘Linear progression’ (1985) describes a zig-zag through a park, and ‘Meander’ (1991) can be seen glowing under the surface of a German river.
In 2002 Dilworth moved from Amsterdam to Lille - the Stedelijk museum mounted a farewell exhibition for the artist. In 2005 he was given a solo show at Musée des Beaux Arts, Calais, folllowed by exhibitions at gallerie Frontière$ in Hellemes, Hénin-Beaumont, and le centre d'Art contemporain de Bouvet Ladubay in Saumur. In 2006, Dilworth had a one-man at Galerie Oniris in Rennes, and in 2007 a retrospective at Musée Matisse, Le Cateau Cambrésis.