A conversation with Ptolemy Mann - Colour and our Loom Collection.

Hayche talks to Textile Artist and Designer, Ptolemy Mann to get a deeper understanding about her passion for colour, her expert hand-weaving techniques and her first collaborative venture into furniture design. 

Image courtesy of Ptolemy Mann 

H: Was it always weaving and textiles that fascinated you? You have a reputation for creating dynamic colour combinations, patterns and shapes that have become a kind of signature to your work - how do you approach the synthesis of both with such precision and subtlety?

PM: I initially wanted to be a painter but felt I also needed some practical skills and was interested in Craftsmanship. I ended up applying for a Textile BA at Central Saint Martins and got in so that started the interest in textiles. Although I loved all aspects of textiles, weaving was by far the most challenging and intellectually engaging. There’s an extraordinary level of technical skill and process required which appealed to me. It turned out to be the perfect vehicle for my specific aesthetic. As there is so much technical restriction with weaving the signature of my work is very much defined by the technique. I use a specific loom which means I can only create linear patterns. In other words the work is defined by the dyeing and weaving process and the signature developed as a direct result of this.

Image courtesy of Ptolemy Mann 

H: Weaving has a strong association with an old world approach to craft - you have turned that idea on its head by making your work an art form - do you think craft is finally accepted into the contemporary disciplines of art and design? 

PM: Everything in the art world moves in cycles… I think there has always been some kind of link between art and craft. I’ve always felt the Bauhaus, for example, respected and took seriously the idea that craft was central to making good visual art. Things dropped off through the latter part of the 20th Century but now I do feel that connection is emerging again. However I think it’s easier for an establish fine artist to employ craft based techniques in their work, than it is for an established craft based artist to move into the art world. 

H: The process of weaving and dyeing is most definitely a complex one, can you explain a little about your process?

PM: In a nut shell I begin with a single white cone of yarn. Through a series of processes and techniques I am able to apply colour to the threads and organize 2000 of them (each 10 metres long) onto the loom in a specific order. Once the loom is threaded and set up I can then weave the cloth – its then cut off and stretched. My Ikat signature is achieves by dyeing the threads before they are put on the loom and I set them as a warp faced cloth which allows the vertical warp threads to dominate. The weft is one colour. The stretching transforms the cloth into a painted canvas.

Image courtesy of Ptolemy Mann 
Image courtesy of Ptolemy Mann 
Image courtesy of Ptolemy Mann 

H: Every piece of your work employs the use of the most inspiring colour palette, what is it that sets you on the path of a particular colour journey?

PM: Everything I do I deeply rooted in colour theory. Understanding these principals underlines the work. I’ve also made thousands of artworks over the years and colour is a skill like any other which you gradually begin to master the more you do it. However, colour is also deeply intuitive, emotional, unpredictable and surprising. I have found ways to be subversive with colour. All those colour theory rules needs to be broken at times. I’ve learnt to follow my instincts and also allow for accidental colour.

H: You have travelled extensively and Alejandro Villarreal (Hatches' Creative Director and Designer) has its roots in Mexico - Do you think this gave you the grounding to explore and understand the cross cultural differences required to work on the Loom series (where traditional Mexican processes have been inspirational)

PM: I really believe weaving taps into a sort of archetypal subconscious – every culture has weaving at its root – it almost defies language. South American weaving has always been a favourite of mine and I feel it’s my duty to transform the venerable craft of weaving into a modern and accessible process that trendy young Westerners can relate to. In some ways the basic principal of weaving has remained unchanged for thousands of years – our job is to remind people of its importance. Weaving is a fantastic methodology which can be applied to both literal and philosophical ideas. The Loom series takes the concept of the loom and weaving and presents it as a functional object.

Loom Chair by Alejandro Villarreal + Ptolemy Mann

H: When you started collaborating with Hayche on the Loom Series, what were the challenges working with an existing design (Alejandro Villarreal was responsible for the original chair design)? How did you create your imprint? 

PM: In some ways I treated it just as if I were making an artwork. Colour saturation and rhythm were important to get right and we explored several possibilities. I’m in no way a furniture designer so it was lovely to have such a good design to work with. I tried to simply enhance what was already gorgeous and tried to give the woven part more depth and complexity. The seat itself became the canvas. Tonality and depth of colour + contrast helped to create a more three dimensional object. It seems every project I get involved with becomes a reflection of grading colour and tonality.

Loom Stool by Alejandro Villarreal + Ptolemy Mann

H: The cords of the Loom series are a departure from your usual material; where there any particular challenges or unexpected bonuses working with cord?

PM: The main issue was ensuring we could source a large enough number of colours. My ideas relied on a subtle and gradual colour change which can only be achieved if the colours are available in a large enough palette. Some compromise was required and some clever colour theory has helped the number of colour appear to be more than they actually are. My work is usually a much denser hit of colour whereas the cords have large spaces between them…I was keen to make sure the impact was strong enough despite the overall transparency of the cloth.

Loom Collection by Alejandro Villarreal + Ptolemy Mann

H: Your work is often used in public buildings and architectural projects; it must be an entirely different experience especially if it is the facade of a building, working at a different scale and in non-woven palette? How does this differ from your work as an artist and designer?

PM: In some ways they are surprisingly similar. Weaving and colour operate on a more subconscious level so you can apply their methodology to various projects. I always approach projects – whether a façade of a building or a piece of woven cloth in the same way – a logical and process driven way. My aim is to enhance and embellish a project in an intelligent and meaningful way., I like to work with the object or building, not against it. Not every building or piece of furniture needs colour but when they can take it and be enhanced by it I get very excited. 

H: Where are you happiest: at the loom or the drawing board?

PM: Always happiest at the loom…

Image courtesy of Ptolemy Mann