When we walk down the road and smile at a stranger, or sit in a coffee shop sipping on hot coffee and talk to our friend sitting opposite us. We don’t necessarily think about our lips, maybe only to apply lipstick or to moisturise them when they are dry. Actually our face has a significant amount of information in every detail, how our faces communicate is what fascinates contemporary artist Sara. She has narrowed it down though and is concentrating on just lips. We may notice those lips, when you watch the news reader discuss the topics of the day, or the musician on stage as their mouth touches the microphone, or that sensuous excitement the moment you stare at a someones lips just before you are about to kiss them. Her pop art style entices the very essence of the mouth. Beautiful sumptuous full bodied kissable lips, mischievous lips, shy lips, nervous lips, sexy, deliciously glamorous and erotic lips. In flamboyant reds on gold, sparkling diamonds on pinks, baby neon blues and black there is something devilishly dramatic in her art, with a sophisticated edge.
When I first meet Sara, it’s almost obvious that she would be the artist, as I enter the Turner Barnes gallery in the affluent Brentwood. Standing tall and elegant amongst her rainbow of red paintings displayed on the fresh white walls, she brings me some water as we sit down to talk. Her lips are painted red and I am immediately looking at them as we start to chat about communication. She started her first collection about ten years ago, her fascination with the human face are her inspirations. Her portraits of elderly women in New York resonate that desire to transform ourselves, next a series of distorted paintings of glamours women with applied make-up, particularly resonate the influence of Francis Bacon. Expression, it all comes through the face she explains, you don’t even have to say anything, “it’s the curl of a lip!” and Sara demonstrably curls her lip up. She is equally fascinated with how people modify themselves. How make-up and dressing changes the way you feel, it’s transformative, and we discuss a time when this was the only way women could express themselves and communicate, especially with each other.
Sara grew up in the industrial town of Stoke on Trent near Manchester, not a visually striking place as she describes it, and although she loved to draw from a young age and had a love for fashion and make-up. She went on to have a very academic education. School was terrible for art, where she grew up, dry and boring, is how she explains it. However Sara was particularly excellent in maths and she has a degree in Mathematics. Her mother was a teacher and her father a computer scientist who headed a computer firm, ahead of his time, leading the way in the computer science industry. They retired at 50, moving to Spain. She tells me how when she visited Barcelona at 21 that she decided her path was in the creative industry so she made the choice to live in this beautiful city and applied for a short course in Graphic and design. Always fascinated with how people dressed and expressed themselves and how it changes the way you feel. Sara returned to London and started working in the magazine industry as an Art Director and designer. Addressing her passion for fashion, she became an avid collector of Vintage shoes and clothes and then created a vintage shop with parties selling her precious finds. Then she met a fashion designer who invited her to design a collection of shoes.
This incredible turn in her life led to a degree at the London College of Fashion graduating as a shoe designer, drawing shoes and working for many years in the industry, for designers such as Paul Smith, as well as projects for brands like Zara designing for catwalks, in Spain and Paris. As she talks to me about her career in shoe design, I am thinking to myself, this has got be the perfect job, however Sara didn’t feel she was fully expressing herself. She secretly started dabbling in her own art, “I felt compelled to start painting” so Sara started teaching herself how to paint, working with oils and acrylic, diluted, blending and reapplied to create a smooth effect, that in some cases her lips look so realistic you think it’s a photo.
Inspired by perfection of the finished image, she works with models, taking photographs of her subjects expressing themselves, then amplifies the mouth, it’s super slick, ultra polished all creating an illusion and influenced by working in the magazine industry. It becomes even more fascinating when you look at the mathematics behind of what is regarded as beauty or perfection, some plastic surgeons work with the theory of the symmetry of the Golden ratio. Arguably some may disprove this notion of what is beautiful, but it’s interesting nonetheless. There is equally another theory of the ratio between things the Rule of thirds, this applies to the composition of paintings, photography or graphic design. Don’t forget Sara is also a mathematician. Then she quotes Galileo “Nature is written in the language of maths”. Sara may no longer work in the fashion industry, she has made a name for herself an artist, exhibiting in galleries around the world. A current project with Tiger Heart Creative, is taking her to another dimension, an Artificial intelligence (AI) experience. A large scale hologram of lips and viewers can have a conversation with these AI lips, and the conversation can go anywhere.
Interview: Antoinette Haselhorst
Photoshoot location and cakes courtesy of Turner Barnes Gallery