Bright red voluptuous lips in varying shades of berry and rose have become the signature image of Sara Pope’s oeuvre, which she describes as ‘lip portraits’. Her seductive artworks are inspired by Haute Couture fashion and beauty trends stemming from an earlier career as a shoe designer, and she captures the drama and power of strong women in her paintings and prints. 

Psychologist Carl Jung once described colour as the ‘mother tongue of the subconscious’, and in her upcoming exhibition ‘Red’ at London’s Grove Gallery, Sara Pope explores the multi-layered meanings behind the colour red: its psychology, physiology and cultural significance.

Culturalee caught up with Sara as she prepared for her ‘Red’ exhibition. 

Culturalee: How would you define ‘culture’?

Sara Pope: Culture is a broad term that encompasses customs, social behaviours, values, traditions, and material objects that people in a society share. It’s the particular blend of flavours that make each culture so unique, varied and interesting.

What was the starting point for your career as an artist?

I’d been working as a shoe designer for many years and a design contract I was working on came to an end. For whatever reason in that moment I came to the realisation, I can’t not paint any more! I was lucky enough to be able to give myself a few months off, so I started painting in earnest and began an exploration which has led me to where I am now.

What has been your most moving cultural experience to date?

The Venice Biennale, every time!

Sara Pope ‘Juicy Cherry’. Copyright the artist

What’s your greatest personal achievement as an artist? 

To keep creating. I think as long as you have faith in the integrity of what you’re creating, it gives you the reassurance that it’s worth putting it out into the world no matter what. This helped me to not care when I wasn’t sure whether anyone was paying attention (especially at the beginning of my art exploration, I’m self taught, so for a while it was just me in my kitchen creating and experimenting). 

What’s your favourite artist/ book/ exhibition/ play/ film/ musician?

Artist: Elizabeth Peyton.
Book: ‘The machine Stops’ by E.M. Forster.
Exhibition: Francis Bacon retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts.
Opera: Marina Abramovich in the ‘7 Deaths of Maria Callas’. 
Film: ‘Blade Runner’.
Musician: Agnes Obel.

Who are the cultural icons and artists that have inspired you most?

Grace Jones, Kate Moss, Marylin Monroe, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Guy Bourdain and Tamara De Lempicka.

Any tips for young people wanting to break into the art world?

Sara Pope ‘Crimson Pop’. Copyright the artist.

Firstly don’t burden your art with having to pay for your life, you need to support it, not the other way around. Get a part time job, or whatever you have to do, your creativity deserves your faith and support.  Pursue avenues that feel authentic to you, things that you’re passionate about and things that resonate with you, it will help you discover your unique expression. Get out there, into the world, meet people, see exhibitions, get inspired. I think part of the role of an artist is the solitary activity of introspection and delving deep into what’s within, but you also need to experience the world and absorb all its colours.

Can you describe the process of making your art and how you developed it? 

When I’m creating a lip portrait, the process begins with choosing a subject. I invite my subject to my studio for an in depth study, where I start with a makeup brush and a lipstick. I paint the subjects’ lips, then, using specific techniques of makeup and lighting, I begin the process of capturing my subjects’ unique expression, through an extensive photographic study. These shots provide the foundation from which I draw inspiration to start the painting. My painting process involves several layers of thin oil-diluted paint being overlaid, blending and smoothing the colours extensively at every stage, sometimes also mixing lipstick into the paint. Emulating the stylistic slickness of fashion and advertising, the result is glossy, perfect and a bit irresistible.

What project(s) are you currently working on? 

I’ve been working for the past year towards a solo exhibition entitled ‘RED’, an exploration of the unique properties of this fascinating colour, its intense power and the drama it evokes. I’m excited to say that the exhibition will be open to the public from 7th December at Grove Gallery in London. Entry is free, please feel welcome to come and visit!

‘Red’ by Sara Pope is at Grove Gallery, 156 New Cavendish St., London W1W 6YW on 6th December.


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