The Art of Travelling Virtually
Words and Photographs Ptolemy Mann
Dappled light streams through the branches of a tree leaning above the hidden stepwell. It’s quiet, early morning in the heart of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, and from street level you would never know this architectural gem was here. A high wall surrounds it, nothing indicates what’s beneath. Rajesh, the local environmentalist showing us round, magically produces a key and we push back the battered door and walk down into the space. It’s breathtaking. Transparent aquamarine water catches the light and reflects it back up towards the pinkish stone arches looping around the space. We all breathe a deep sigh of peaceful contemplation after the madness of the street above.
In February 2020 I travelled to India to work on a short documentary film about the weaving process involved in making the Gelim flatweave rugs I’ve been designing for the past eight years. Little did I know at the time it would become an essential source of great inspiration in the coming months; and not for the reasons I might have expected. Traveling to India is always a crazy mix of chaos and beauty and, as an artist, it’s a continuous source of stimulation. For me it’s all about colour.
After working every day for eight weeks in my studio during isolation, I have begun to dig deeply into my ‘internal colour library’ and my memories and photographs of India have opened a floodgate of intuitive, explosive colour. For the past two years I have been working for the first time with paint and paper on an ongoing series of ‘Unconscious Colour Paintings’; trying to switch off that conscious, judgmental voice we all have inside and bring forth something altogether more lyrical and forgiving. After 25 years’ working as a hand weaver with all the technical restrictions the process entails, this immediacy has been a revelation.
I’ve begun to travel daily in my mind. Perfecting if I can, the ‘art of travelling virtually’. Trying to feel the awareness of being in India. At a time when we don’t know if we will ever travel again as we did before, I’ve found a new sense of gratitude for the places I have seen.
Every day I have made paintings that are saturated with the sensations of India. The two cities of Mirzapur and Jodhpur, where we filmed on our trip, are gradually revealing themselves through gestures of paint and light, capturing the remembered moment of laughing with the women who weave our rugs, bathed in the hottest turquoise green I’ve ever seen.