Amanda Dow Thompson’s Sculptural Work Leads the Progressive Female Artist Movement
A mother, carpenter, sculptor, painter, photographer and a leader in the progressive, and often overlooked, female artist movement, Amanda Dow Thompson’s meticulous, powerful sculptures and art offer a 360-degree perspective that challenges conventional gender roles in materials and structure.
By Laura Richards
Before Amanda Dow Thompson entered the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she worked for years as a commercial artist producing work for the London club scene of the 1980’s. It was because of her commercial background that she studied printmaking and graphic design in school, “My previous experience as a commercial artist had a huge impact on my work. I’m very aware of grabbing someone from a distance and then bringing them up close. Graphic design gives a message and gets your attention and that messaging is a part of my work now. I want someone to see what I’m making from across the street then up close so they’ll see lots of textures,” she says. What Thompson loves most are the tiny details, secrets and surprises people only notice when they come closer to her work. She says, “What people often respond to are my more bold, bright geometric shapes that you can see from afar. I like the play and connection between the two, the big and bold and then the up close detail.”
Though accepted to RISD for graphic design, she switched to painting fine art in her final year. Her paintings became more sculptural as she worked on wood and eventually started carving. Using lumber, metal and the necessary hardware Thompson’s sculptures took on a fragile almost apologetic aesthetic eventually breaking into boldness. Being a sculptor is typically male dominated space. She says, “Carpentry and power tools are usually male dominated so I get a kick when carpenters ask how I do something. Using hammers and chisels I juxtapose that with upholstery pins and silver leaf; traditionally more decorative materials. Strength with frailty juxtaposed together.”
Thompson says that shadow play is involved in her work too and represents a year where she felt she was living in the shadows. She shares, “The idea of these different personas we all have and being not quite apologetic but not being as bold as I have now become in my work. My work now is much bolder I have phallic shapes that are 9 ft. tall covered in metal studs in new show I’m working towards yet it’s still terribly frail, full of air floating pieces. I think it’s less apologetic and less hidden even though I still have some of those aspects they are part rather than the whole message.”
One of her current pieces called Role Play speaks to the more traditional male/female roles and that women are often pigeon-holed into the earth mother. She explains, “In one piece the brazen sex dominated vixen and ingénue is speaking to these conventional roles and is one of the reasons I use wood as each piece is unique as each person is unique and not pigeonholing into these roles and having to conform. Twisting and unraveling, pulling apart, stretching speaking to my generation having tried to conform and are coming out of that enforced conformity.”
Thompson’s meditative pieces shift perspective, reorder light and challenge what we know of reality. Her work also involves painting, photography and light. It is no wonder that she has developed an international following and exhibited in prestigious institutions like The Royal College of Art in London, the Espacio Morán de Arte Contemporaneo in Caceres, Spain, and the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Michigan.
Her interactive installation in the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Michigan involved 7 ft. carved cylindrical shapes hung 6 inches from the wall and illuminated with various types of light and gel overlays. She shares, “It was fun and interactive and cast shadows that were more visceral than the actual sculpture and people would spin them hanging from a wire a moving image from behind. Then I created video of just the shadow and photographs and digital prints. I like the meta factor of them I like how the actual solid sculpture was less vibrant.” She also did an installation in Williamsburg that used video and cast glass and resin, “Video cast to the wall and behind them glass transparent pieces and on the wall behind video.
Despite integrating other mediums, central heart of everything Thompson does are her sculptures and everything else spins off of that, “Painting is of the sculptures and of the shadows cast from the sculptures. Twisted trying to conform and fit in and going up in smoke and on the edge of insanity they all tie in intentionally.” One piece in particular called Beholden created from carved basswood, graphite and resin best represents Thompson now as an artist. She describes Beholden as, “a restless image of rods and bundle and long branches wrapped in a ribbon and I’ve carved one piece 5 ft. 3 in. wide X 8″ height X 5″ depth it’s heavy and big and inside it looks like there are still rods running through it and there’s a ribbon of wood around it. It speaks to internal strength, the hiding of inner steel which if you didn’t pull apart the wood you’d have fragile wood surface with delicate markings and that symbolizes Beholden “in the eye of the beholder” beauty standards imposed on us as women from the outside.” She is proud of this work as it represents her and so many women and their strong inner core.
Thompson’s exhibition Slippery When Wet begins December 15, 2016 at Causey Contemporary, 29 Orchard Street, New York which she describes as fun area, “I’m excited that it’s a small space as my last show was 3,000 sq. ft. so it will be interesting to see the big work I’ve created in a small space; it’s going to be quite overwhelming which is good and powerful.”