Meet the Maker: Artist Ptolemy Mann

I first met artist Ptolemy Mann when we both exhibited at art and design shows in the 90’s, but its more recently that we’ve had the opportunity to spend time together. It’s lovely having a fellow creative living close by. Ptolemy is currently in Copenhagen on a three-month artist residency, but before she left, I asked her to model some of my work in my Tunbridge Wells jewellery shop and Atelier. Read on to find out about Ptolemy’s work as an artist, creating hand-dyed, woven wall-hung art works. Ptolemy also talks about her favourite jewellery pieces, style, inspiration and local haunts.

Ptolemy Mann's work at Tate Modern

1. What was the first piece of Catherine Hills Jewellery you ever wore? How did it make you feel?

Double Bobbled Oval Hoop earrings

The first piece I wore of Catherine’s was the Double Oval Bobbled Hoop Drop earrings in a warm gold finish. It was instant love… they are incredibly light and dreamy but also make a delicate strong statement - if that make sense? I found myself wearing them every single day. They just seemed to go with everything. I was hooked!

2. Do you have a favourite piece of Catherine’s jewellery?

Three Chain Drop Earrings

I seem to always have a ‘current’ favourite. There’s something very unusual about Catherine’s jewellery - her work may look simple at first glance but the moment you put a piece on something happens in the ‘wearing’ of it. I’ve often found the opposite with other makers - a piece of jewellery looks great in the cabinet but somehow disappoints when you put it on. Catherine’s work does the opposite. Until recently my favourites were the Three Chain Drop earrings in gold that dangle down - again I was wearing them EVERY single day.

Twisted Thread Hoop bracelet

However, when she very kindly asked me to model some pieces for her website, I was lucky enough to put on a silver, Twisted Thread Hoop bracelet that looks like giant twisted silver threads. My goodness, the moment I put it on I just didn’t want to take it off ever again. I knew I had to have it forever. I think this piece is now my all-time favourite of hers. I haven’t taken it off since!

3. How does your work as an artist influence your fashion style?

Ptolemy Mann Artist

It’s a really interesting question. The older I get, and the more confident I become with own my art practice, the more I seem to ‘inhabit’ my personal style more comfortably. I think I’ve always dressed in a slightly eccentric, bold way. I’ve been reading about other women artist’s lives recently - people like Helen Frankenthaler and Georgia O’Keefe. These women completely merged their lives and work in equal measure. O’Keefe, especially, really saw the way she dressed and lived as being an extension of her art practice and I’m starting to realise that I do this too. Partly deliberately and partly unconsciously.

Ptolemy Mann weaving ALBEDO solo show 2019

Needless to say, I’ve always been drawn to interesting colours and pattern, and I certainly lean towards certain colours in my daily life when I’m working with them in my work. I find myself less and less interested in mainstream fashion but more interested in specific icons and moments in time. Although there’s little logic to what catches my eye. I just ‘know’ when I see or wear something I like or find interesting.

4. Tell us about your favourite places to shop / hidden gems in and around Tunbridge Wells.

Trevor Mottram kitchenware shop

One of my favourite shops is in a village near Tunbridge Wells, The Old Haberdashery in Ticehurst - it’s a treasure trove of vintage and exquisitely sourced objects. I’m an obsessive cook so Trevor Mottram in The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells is a very dangerous spot for me. It really is one of the best cookware shops I’ve ever been in. I can disappear in there for hours. One of the best galleries in the area is WING in Wadhurst - brilliant, locally sourced paintings, sculpture and applied arts. It’s run by a fantastic couple of artists.

5. Where do you go to find inspiration for your work? How has this changed because of Lockdown?

Ptolemy Mann paintings from nature

The biggest shift in my work life recently is that I’ve started to paint. After over 25 years working almost exclusively at the loom, I can now grab paint and paper and go out into nature in a way I never could before. I love weaving and it’s absolutely central to my working practice and always will be - but the liberation during lockdown of being able to leave the house and make art outside in nature has been a revelation. It’s totally opened up my whole way of seeing and creating. These giant paintings on paper have then fed back into my work at the loom. In terms of specific places, I never, ever get tired of visiting the gardens at Great Dixter near Rye. Another real treat is Farleys Farmhouse near Lewes, where Lee Miller lived with Roland Penrose. A truly extraordinary place. The other revelation in the last 18 months has been swimming in the sea as much as possible…. The best inspiration possible!

6. Tell us about your artist residency in Copenhagen.

Ptolemy Mann nature painting

In October last year I decided to apply for a three-month residency in Copenhagen. It seemed a little crazy and unlikely at the time, but I was accepted and offered a place for this summer and have been able to travel here despite Covid. It’s an absolutely beautiful city. Big enough for some serious museum and gallery action but small enough to walk pretty much everywhere on foot. I’m weaving an epic piece of work called ‘The Blue Hour’ for a show I’m having here in September 2022. It will be 6m x 2.2m when completed and is about the transition of the sky from daylight to darkness; that moment when the light shifts from warm day to cool night light. I’ve also been going out into the Danish landscape and painting as much as I can - in between jumping in the harbours of Copenhagen. It’s a city absolutely surrounded by water everywhere. I feel extremely grateful at the moment to be able to experience a foreign city in such a magical way. My nordic odyssey will be inspiring my work for some time to come.