This is really a mean question - Interview with Sara Pope

A bright lipstick has been a symbol of femininity and glamour since the 1940s. Stars like Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor turned red lips into their own signature look. We meet Sara Pope at the House of St Barnabas in Soho for a long chat. Her paintings of full voluptuous lips have become her trademark. Where has the fascination with this subject come from?

Sara Pope

Graphic designer, art director, fashion designer and all-round artist. Can we still find Sara Pope the mathematician in what you do now?

Yes, definitely. In part my work focuses on beauty, what it is, what defines it. Maths is integral to everything in nature, including what we perceive to be beautiful. For example, the Golden Ratio is a fundamental part of what we are subconsciously attracted to, also symmetry. As my work always begins with a photoshoot, I use models a lot, and one thing I notice when selecting a model is how they always have perfectly symmetrical faces. (NB Sara has a degree in mathematics from Leeds University)

What important life lessons has art taught you?

I learnt that you need to do the thing that really resonates with you, whatever that might be, if you want to inhabit yourself fully. It may not be something that you think can support you financially initially, or ever, but it's important to do it.

You are best known for your bright and provocative paintings of lips. Where has the fascination with this subject come from?

It all started with an interest in facial communication, the expression of emotion, what people are telling and how. I began painting portraits but fairly quickly realised that the mouth just on its own is hugely expressive, through speech of course but also through mouth shape and the subtle movement of the mouth, it's integral to communication. Also to sensual communication, kissing for example.

Possibly because of my work with fashion and magazines, I also find a person's self-expression through appearance and manipulation of appearance very interesting. For example, take the lips, a huge amount of women and some men use lipstick, and lip gloss, for so many reasons, to look younger, more attractive, powerful, confident.

'Attitude' by Sara Pope

Attitude by Sara Pope

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Do you fear being typecast into a certain style of painting or subject matter?

Some people might do that, but really I don't try to second guess my audience too much. I think it's more important to focus on whether you still feel engaged by the subject matter. If you don't maybe you should stop. I still feel there is so much more to explore.

We are transporting you from the chilled out atmosphere of the House of St Barnabas to the BBC recording studio of Mastermind. The subject is 'Famous works of art with lips'. The clock starts. Go!

The Lips sofa by Salvador Dalí in the Mae West room at the Dalí Theatre museum in Figueras and also the Ruby Lips in the Dalí Jewels Collection.

Works by Warhol.

This is a really mean question. I should know a lot more!

You've collaborated with The Big Issue, BareMinerals makeup, PIAS music label and Saatchi&Saatchi, ME London and Swedish fashion label Limitato. What are the key elements of a good collaboration and what are the benefits for you as an artist?

A key element is being inspired by what they are doing. You also need to get on well. It’s so much easier if you are on the same wavelength and are excited by the project. The most obvious benefit is that you raise your profile, especially with well-known brands.

Is there an artist or a brand that you would love to work with? 

Charlotte Tilbury make-up brand, we are already in talks for a possible collaboration. And since I have not worked on any recent project involving shoes, I'd love to work with Aquazzura, Sergio Rossi, Manolo Blahnik or Louboutin. 

'Pink Decadence' by Sara Pope

Pink Decadence by Sara Pope


In 2014 your portrait of Pope Francis was accepted into the Vatican collection. How did that happen?

I was about to have a solo show in Florence and my agent suggested that I paint the Pope. When he contacted the Vatican, the Pope was said to love the painting and I was invited to deliver it in person. I met with his personal translator.  Although I'm not religious I have a lot of respect for this particular Pope for being a genuine humanist. He often gets into trouble with the more conservative people within the church, but I guess his days as a nightclub bouncer have prepared him for that!

With the exception of this portrait, is there a reason why you tend to choose female subjects for your works?

When I worked in fashion and media, it was always with women as the focus, so it just felt like a natural continuation, with my art reflecting back what I was seeing. I'm planning though to start introducing some male subjects into my work. Male beauty is also fascinating.

Like many other artists, you have lived in many places, both in the UK and abroad. Why did you settle in Brighton? It is widely considered a hub of creativity with a thriving art scene. What’s so special about the place?

I visited Brighton one summer as I had an exhibition there, and it must have left a deep impression because when I was looking to buy a flat, I came to Brighton for the day and went home with a new flat! Even though it's a small city there is so much going on in terms of music, art, comedy, theatre, you're certainly not deprived of culture. Also, we have the sea, which I love. In summer I usually work all day in my studio, then pop to the beach for a swim. It doesn't get much better than that.

Your wish for 2019.

I'd love to have a solo show in Tokyo or in the States, possibly New York or LA.


| Click the images below to discover 'So Hot Right Now' by Sara Pope |

So Hot by Sara Pope

'So Hot' by Sara Pope