Amanda Dowie in Conversation

I joined Open Circle in 2013.  I got an application form from one of the other parents whose kid goes to my kids’ school. Nicola knew that I had started a painting class and one day she caught me in the playground and she handed me an Open Circle application form. She said, “This is you, do it!” I had no clue what Open Circle was. I didn’t know what she was handing me I just threw it in my bag and then later when I was reading it, it just sounded like such a nice thing to do. To have a group of women who got together and painted. To be surrounded by nurturing women and to be surrounded by women seemed to me exactly what I needed as I was going through some difficult times. It came at exactly the right time and it just so happened that the group of people I was put in with were just the most amazing bunch of people with the strangest dynamic of immediate bonding. We had a class with Gypsy (Ray) and it just felt like family, as if we were going along to spend time with family. We would spend the first few minutes telling each other our joys and our woes and then we would get on with some art. I’ve never looked back. It’s been three years now and a lot of the people there would be close friends now, I socialise with a lot of them outside of Open Circle. I go to their houses and they come to mine. It’s changed my life very definitely.  Art has changed my life anyway but I think I really needed Open Circle at exactly that juncture of my life. Because I have no formal training and no way of knowing what to do or where to go with it, Open Circle gave me a foundation and a direction, it stopped me spinning off doing lots of things, it tethered me for a while as I looked around in lots of different directions while I worked things out. It was a totally a safe environment with kind people. I could say what was going on and they wouldn’t judge me or talk about me. Everyone shared something, that’s what made it amazing, there were days when people would come in and need to burst into tears. There was never a feeling of judgement there was an almost immediate feeling of a bond of womanhood and this was our safe place. Then we put everything from the real world in a box and explored our creative sides…just let go of everything that was constraining us in life and stopping us doing other things. Here was one place where we could put everything aside. By listening to these peoples stories you were able to put things in perspective. Somebody had a recent serious diagnosis, someone else had a very sick family member; everyone had something going on. I think at that stage in my life all I could see were clouds and this experience in Open Circle helped me see things from another perspective and build up a new philosophy. Life is a series of sufferings but living is seeing the chinks of light and allowing yourself to bask in those knowing another cloud will inevitably arrive.  Before all I could see was misery and I was very depressed at what had happened in my life and who I had become. I can actually remember walking through the Castle Park and the world went from a kind of a greyish sepia into Technicolor. To the point I had to sit in a bench and rub my eyes, wondering if I needed medical attention – but I’ve seen the world in those colours ever since then. And that is what I paint now, those colours that shine through everything. My mum calls this “the veil of depression”, finally the veil had been lifted, I had finally processed everything that had happened to me and I was free to see the world. From my first painting it was never about capturing a pretty scene, I wanted to capture the energy, the mood, and it was never about the tree and flowers. It was about the story I was telling and often that story was about me. I didn’t have any better way to express it. I didn’t know how to it was so painful, so deep and so woven in the fabric of my personality. I couldn’t verbalise it but I go to Open Circle to do things with a part of my brain I don’t use for anything else. It’s a form of meditation.  I get a lovely restful, peaceful feeling. I had never experienced that before I started painting, knitting or using the creative part of my brain. It happened accidentally, it’s almost like something that happened TO me. I knew I was miserable and that I had to make sure that my kids had a good parent. I knew there was something inside of me that was broken and I didn’t know how to fix it. How do you create the piece that is missing? Something in my soul needed to heal and art helped me do that. So many people asked about my work, I set up my own website and I was accepted into New Irish Artists. I may be going up to Merrion Square to do the Public Art market in the park and I currently have a body of work hanging at “Lennon’s” the restaurant/café/bar of the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art and the George Bernard Shaw Theatre in Carlow. Paula is one of my Open Circle close family and she sent me a message saying ‘Call Me!’ I was worried that something had happened to our other Open Circle family members Mum who hasn’t been well.  I immediately called and asked was everything okay and she said she spotted a painting that I posted up on social media that morning for my family to see and Paula had shown her colleague at the Restaurant. She asked Paula if I had more, enough to fill their wall-space and would I be interested in hanging them!

My friends in open Circle held me up and loved me when I couldn’t love myself and I am happy, at peace and over 8 stone lighter now, I will never forget that. I know how it feels to be held up now and without a doubt that changed me integrally as a person. I became more empathetic and humble, it helped mold me into the kind of person I realised I wanted to be.  My default has changed from selfish because that clashes with everything I’ve been through now.

I have interviews in the coming months to go and study Law because with everything I’ve been through in my life I realised I really want to help others. Legal paper work is so daunting and you lose your autonomy and your power being dragged through the legal system. I want to be there to help others who have to go through these things. Even if I get to do Law though, I can’t imagine a day without picking up my paintbrush. If you ask my children they’ll tell you that they love it when I paint because it makes me so happy. They know that when I paint I come away a better person, at peace. I also now do art with them, as I learn things I can pass it on.  So Celia knows how to knit now and Osgar has started painting and they find art therapeutic now too. Osgar says that he loves our house because the walls are covered in either their paintings or mine and there is colour splashed all over the place. I explain to them that the mistakes are good and that there is never a wrong way, that each layer has to be there to make the final product. That in itself is a huge life lesson and it is so much more than just art. It helps us express ourselves, communicate and work in a space together. I love seeing them being creative because I think they will get to know themselves better.

If anyone is thinking of joining Open Circle and isn’t sure I would say try and find the courage to join because the hardest part, without a doubt, is making that first step through the door. Once you do, you’ll never look back, it’s a network of humanity which you can connect with but you have to be brave enough to step through and after that you’ll have the most wonderful experience and I promise you, you’ll never regret it.

You can see more of Amanda’s work on