Since completing her first mural for a catwalk show by Peter Jensen in 2007, Peckham-based British artist, Charlotte Mann has become much in demand for her intricate wall drawings and drawn room installations, which she creates with just thick black marker pen and white emulsion paint.
Such is the magnificence of her work, which features in the home of India Knight, the classroom of London-based social enterprise The School of Life and many other interiors within both private and public settings, that Mann says she has “never had to look for work.”
But Mann’s career actually began as a fashion designer. After studying fashion design at Central St Martins, she worked for Russell Sage, for whom she designed and made show pieces over a period of four years. These included the dress made from money now in the archive collection at the V and A, and animal skin pieces featured in an exhibition in the Met museum, New York. So how did she end up becoming an artist?
“I think I got to the point where I didn’t want to be a fashion designer any more,” she says, “I just didn’t care what people wore that much.” The change of direction came after
learning that Peter Jensen was using photographer Tina Barney as a muse for his fashion show. A long-time fan of her work, Mann approached Jensen about doing a drawing, based on one of her photos, as a backdrop to the catwalk. He agreed, “everyone loved it” and people have been commissioning her every since.
Of course, her success as an artist is not particularly suprising. Both her parents are artists (her father is the well-known blind British painter Sargy Mann), and, she says, “I grew up in a household where people talked about art all the time.”
Mann’s murals are meticulous in their detail and commissions can take up to two months to complete. Like many of the big artists of the past (from Leonardo da Vinci to Claude Lorrain to Andy Warhol), Mann employs a team of people to help her complete each mural. She laughs when I make the comparison. “It is a bit like that! There’s been a team since the beginning – I can’t do it on my own – things take too long. For example, there’ll be a massive tree. I’ll draw the outline of all the leaves and someone else will draw the veins.”
Mann works with a particular type of marker pen – a water-based typed called the Posca marker pen that is non-toxic - in order to avoid feeling light-headed. If she makes a mistake, she uses about ten coats of white emulsion to paint over it, which happens “quite a lot,” she says.
Her current project is the first external piece that she done – for the outside wall of a chemical plant in Switzerland – for which she is focusing completely on nature and screen printing the drawing onto glass to withstand the outdoor environment.
Next year, Mann is due to have a baby and she hopes that this might give her the chance to do some work for a private exhibition, which, she says, is a real ambition. The problem is that “I can’t say no to stuff. I have to save money and it takes me so long to do stuff, but I’d love to just pay my rent for a year, then just work on big paintings and drawings for an exhibition.” For those of us without a Mann mural in our home, this would provide a wonderful opportunity to see her extraordinary work in the flesh.
Emily Jenkinson is interiors writer for furniture and interior design website mydeco.com