Amanda Dow Thompson’s Odes to Female Strength, Perseverance and Capability
Posted by: Andrea Hammer
Artist Amanda Dow Thompson believes that, because of gender stereotypes, women have to work harder than men to become successful or be taken seriously. However, she also thinks that women are ultimately stronger and more resilient, a concept reflected in her wood sculptures. Her abstract carvings, with multiple layers, focus on female forms and woman’s sexuality as a source of power.
“A piece may be very graphic in form and drag you across the room only to hold you there with a quiet fragile detail or a shadow. My new triptych Role Play specifically looks at the stereotypes placed upon woman at various stages of life. Another new sculpture Beholden looks as if it is being pulled apart or unraveled only to offer a glimpse of steel rods beneath the exterior,” Amanda says.
She manipulates each unique and organic piece of wood to appear stretched, twisted, bent or blown up. Her goal is to showcase the resilience and strength that many women need to succeed–or even survive. Amanda describes her new work as “unapologetic” symbols of sensuality, “breaking out of inhibition.”
In previous bodies of work, she intentionally made the pieces fragile and full of holes or air. Amanda explains that the earlier sculptures were also unassuming in color. Shadow, which still plays a part in the new work, was often the most vivid part of the sculpture.
“The work I am making for my upcoming show is more solid, heavier, louder. The frailty is housed within larger frameworks, which act as a protective shield, an armor of sorts. This new work is also more graphic in form, and I have used metal and vibrant or dark colors,” Amanda says. “Many of the new pieces stand in the middle of the room-–on their own feet–-without support from the wall. All of these things represent a strengthening, a growing confidence, which I think comes with age.”
The artist’s idea to contort the wood by stretching, bending, twisting or unraveling it came as a way of representing tension, angst, frustration, fear and depression.
“At first, I was thinking about all the directions women are pulled in, all the personae we must embody and display in order to flourish. Literally how stretched we are, how we can feel as we are falling apart but hold it together – mother, career woman, artist, wife, lover. These contortions are also in reference to the abuse, that women are routinely subjected to,” Amanda says.
“I am a sexual abuse and a sexual assault survivor, one of many of my peers. Although it does not define me, it has shaped me to some extent. Bent me over, twisted or unraveled me. I am also interested in how we contort ourselves in order to fit into the mold that has been created for us. Injecting ourselves to appear younger, starving ourselves to become thinner, waxing ourselves to remain prepubescent, straightening our hair to appear more professional…. All of these things-–which we do to ourselves-–take away our power, unless of course we use our sexuality, and men’s inherent weakness in this area, to our advantage.”
The artist, who has always been physically strong, has worked with traditionally male modes of creation. Hard wood, steel and resin have allowed Amanda to express her ideas dimensionally. Over time, she has become more confident and “less coy” in representing these issues in her artwork.
“When I first started making sculpture there was a bit of-–’hey look at what I can do!’ My work is much more intentional now. I work with tiny chisels to make sure of it. I also think that living in New York has made me a little tougher, in order to succeed here you have to be bold. The English in me asks me to be humble and self-deprecating, but after I moved to NYC, I soon realized that people take you at your word here. Also, I am proud of the work I am making, I would be devastated if no one saw it. So, I yell a little more loudly to be heard ,” she says.
As the mother of two inspiring daughters, she has worked hard and refused to give up.
“To be honest, I think that most workplaces are male-dominated, even if there are more women in a specific field such as education. The positions of authority are male-dominated. So I have dealt with the challenges of being a female working artist in much the same way as I have dealt with the challenges of being a female in any of my other jobs. Also, I like to think that never giving up on your dreams is a good message to send,” she says.
Although some claim that women have many more opportunities now, Amanda thinks that circumstances have not changed significantly. She points to the recent election as a sign of regression. However, despite any barriers, the artist continues to carve her own path.
“I have been the outsider most of my life. Even when I was growing up in London, my dad was American, I always felt different. In those days it was always impressed upon me that it was important to fit in, even if you had to be a little bit inauthentic to do so. I guess I developed personae to present in different situations and this is certainly present in my work,” Amanda says.
“There are also aspects of the work I am making now that have roots in the artwork I was making then for bands and clubs. The music and club scenes of ’80’s London were a wonderful escape and equalizer. I spent a long time trying to find my place after that time. Moving from country to country. I was in my ’40s when I moved to New York, and I remember walking down the street and thinking. Finally, I’m home.”