Mandy ThodyFrom South Africa to the Virgin Islands and Haiti

When English-born Mandy Thody sailed into the Virgin Islands almost two decades ago with her husband and two children, she made an appointment to show me lovely silk purses and eyeglass cases that she and her daughter had sewn and she had painted with sea turtles, water lillies, tropical fish, and shells. I told her that the gallery would buy them all if in the future, she would apply her talent to painting watercolors. She asked what would I like her to paint and I said “people.” She promised to return in a few months. Little did I know Mandy was a people person. Because she had grown up in South Africa, had sailed extensively before marrying a sailor, had lived in Europe for a few years, and then had cruised the Caribbean for a few years before she started painting, she approached the subject with cultural sensitivity.

“I began with wanting to convey each subject’s outlook on the planet. Whether in a portrait of a Zulu tribal woman, a West Indian market lady, or an imaginary Arawak in the vanished pre-Columbian forest of the Caribbean, I hope that both the peace and the vigor of tradtional life reflect in their eyes. After all, most of my subjects still view earth as mother,” she said. When both islanders and visitors began collecting her work, I think I realized why. While her heavily shadowed depictions of individuals are technically flawless, her symbolic backgrounds of petroglyphs, archetypes, flora and fauna imbue each work with an emotional archetypal language.

After a few years of mastering watercolor, Mandy embarked on a journey into the world of ceramics. She began sculpting heads and busts of the people she had been painting. She looks for connections between her two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. Her works for the gallery are table top displays and her commissions are life size bas relief figures.

As a child in South Africa, her playmates were Zulu children. She grew up with a respect for their culture. As a young adult, she fought tirelessly on their behalf. Here in the Caribbean, she gives much of her time to helping the disenfranchised people of Haiti. The faces of the people she paints and sculpts are often memories of friends in Zululand, friends throughout the Caribbean, and children from her adopted school in Haiti.

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