June 22 2011
Ptolemy Mann has an unusual approach to textiles – she designs rainbow-hued, multistripe fabrics stretched tautly over frames to create bespoke wall-hung pieces – that begs the question of how she arrived at it. “I had a ‘eureka’ moment once when stretching my hand-dyed and woven fabrics across frames: suddenly, that gave them an architectural quality,” explains Mann, who has an MA in constructed textiles from the Royal College of Art in London.
“I then developed my ‘chromatic minimalism’ signature of sweeping bands of colour. I wanted to create painterly, polished artworks.” (Her commissioned work is priced from £1,000 to £10,000 per piece, depending on scale.)
She has an impeccably bohemian pedigree, which puts her arty references in context. She was born in New York, where her father knew the minimalist artist Brice Marden and is best friends with someone who deals in Donald Judd and other abstract expressionists. “I’m more inspired by fine art than textiles,” says Mann, who counts the painter Mark Rothko and Mexican architect Luis Barragán as influences.
Yet the craft of hand-weaving is crucial to her work. She uses an upright Dobby loom (invented in the 19th century), takes inspiration from traditional ikats, and a hallmark of her work is the way colours gradually change from one to another within the same vertical band. “I never repeat artworks for clients. But they often scroll through my archive and point out what they like. I start, though, with a site visit. Clients sometimes want pieces linked to their existing furnishings.”
The boldness of Mann’s work attracts clients with adventurous taste: “A businessman who lives in a penthouse in Parliament View, the apartment block opposite the Houses of Parliament, hung my 2m-long panels like flying ducks. Another client commissioned panels to hang in a 12m-high stairwell painted turquoise with a scarlet stripe.” The latter requested “full-on saturated colour”, a criterion Mann’s exuberant work amply, inevitably satisfies.