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The Multiple Facets of Amanda Thompson’s Sculptures

Courtesy of Amanda Thompson

As with most great artists, Amanda Thompson’s sculptures reveal a subtle perspective on the artist herself. Born in Tokyo to English and American parents and raised in London, Thompson has spent much of her life traveling around the world. Not surprisingly, she’s spent a lot of time feeling like an outsider. As she disclosed about her artwork in a recent one-on-one interview, “There is this element of something really trying to conform to something, really trying so hard to fit in, having multiple faces in order to be liked but not quite feeling that. It’s in there.” Clearly, Thompson’s pieces have many layers both literally and figuratively. “The way I work is, is being able to look at things from multiple perspectives simultaneously…. Tilt your head to the side and look at the side and I’ll give you a little surprise from the side or from the back… I like the little secretes. I like the hidden pieces. I’ve made pieces in the past actually where you have to look through the surface and then underneath there’s a whole different world inside but you could miss it if you didn’t look through the holes.” Inspired by her mother, who was a painter, Thompson started making her own pieces in the ‘80s. “It was more commercial art. I did big backdrops for clubs and for bands. And, I did the inside of shops, hand painting the walls and ceilings and doing installation type things like that.” She eventually found herself in America, studying painting at Rhode Island School of Design. It was during that time that she started to develop her unique technique, “I started working on wood because it was free. I would go find pieces of wood and it was much cheaper than canvas. I was working my way through RISD. I paid for it…. So it was important to not spend a lot of money.” She added printmaking and graphic design to her arsenal of skills. Now she finds a way to combine all her talents when she creates a piece. “I’m making sculpture but I’m definitely approaching it from a painterly point of view. I make these very organic forms, these twisted, stretched and knotted forms that I carve and make look ‘other.’ But at the same time, there’ll always be some kind of a very graphic element to them.” Her newest works are no exception. “At the moment I’ve been working on carving these very graphic snakeskin like shapes into the wood. So, that just adds another dimension.” It is a laborious process, which involves a lot of hand carving. Thompsondescribed her process, saying, “I’ll see it in my head… and then I have to start work because I can see it so clearly. I see the color and normally it’s white at this point. So, then I’ll draw it but the drawing is never really good enough. And I’ll make it out of something else — sometimes I’ll make it out of a piece of paper or and I’ll have a little mock-up because I have to grab the image as quickly as I can because otherwise it disappears. And, then after that, then I start to build it.” Next the actual carving can begin. “I often choose my wood according to the size I can get,” Thompson continued. “I’ll draw on the wood and I’ll then sort of draw with a chisel. I obviously have to rough out the shapes. So, if the shape needs to be rounded then I do that all that and then I sand it down and then I can draw on it. Then I cut with the chisel…. It’s a lot of hand sanding, hand painting. This is where the painting comes back in.” Thompson noted that she’s always working on multiple pieces at one time. She currently has 10 pieces ready for her first show in Manhattan at the Causey Contemporary gallery this fall. “I’ve got a triptych, which is these three totem pole like cylinders,” she explained, “They’re seven foot tall by about two feet wide, a foot and a half wide. I call them ‘My Sisters.’ And in some ways they’re different times of being over a lifetime in a way. I was really playing with scale.” And, once again, she incorporates the multi-dimensional layering she’s become known for, often incorporating metal along with the wood and paint, “I made these very small holes in work before. You can see through the holes to other parts of the piece. I’ve done that in a massive scale this time. So, each of the holes is now probably a foot tall. And, inside the wood, I’ve hand carved in one of them it has a spiral of wood with holes again in it. So, this is kind of twisting in the piece. And, it’s all made from one piece of wood.” Her work continues to carry forth the story of the outsider trying to conform but Thompson conceded that there’s yet another layer to these newer pieces. “I’m 50 now and I have these two 17-year-old daughters. They’re women and they’re strong and they’re independent and great. And I think that I’m very aware of that. I’m very aware of them… That’s something that I’m really working through. This idea of strength and scale in what I’m making now.” “What I made before was probably prettier and more delicate and the emphasis was more on shadow — the thing that was there, really, when you turn the lights on or off and it’s gone.” Thompson acknowledged, “Where as now it’s less about that illusion. It’s more about this is right here and it’s strong and it’s metal and it’s steel and it’s unapologetic, robust.” To learn more about Amanda Thompson’s show at the Causey Contemporary visit the gallery’s website.

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