Weaving is one of the most ancient and venerable of all the crafts. It is not generally associated with innovation and modernism. Yet both these words apply to Ptolemy Mann’s distinctive work.
The singing stripe of her precise but subtle textile pieces confirm her as a powerful and pleasing colourfield artist whose medium just happens to be the supremely disciplined one of weaving. It is a rare and thrilling conjunction. Her woven fabric id designed to be looked at and enjoyed, not to be functional in any way. To this end, she works currently in simple plainweave (so as not to distract from the colour) and rather than displaying her lengths as loose hangings stretches them on frames, like oil paintings, emphasising their painterly qualities. But Mann is also moving towards sculpture by increasing the depths of the stretchers, creating work that is strikingly three-dimensional.
Her luminous results are achieved by a mixture of control and chance which would be alien to most painters. The weaving process imposes restrictions on the composition which Mann actually finds liberating, as it enables her to concentrate more fully on her passion: the myriad possible variations of colour, which in her case are predominantly strong and saturated. She does this by dip-dyeing her fibres (a mixture of mercerised cotton – which procedures rich matt hues – and viscose rayon, which comes out shiny, fluid and incredibly bright). This is where the element of chance – and mystery – comes in. Mann goes into the dyeing laboratory with some idea of what she wants, but once there things happen – ‘an alchemy’ is how she describes it, allied with ‘a mission to put strange colours together’. Only when the length is woven does she finally discover how the colours react to each other.
And happily for her admirers, Ptolemy Mann’s mission is still at an early stage.
Annabel Freyberg, 2003
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