Sara Pope is best known for her seductive paintings and limited edition prints of big, bright and beautiful celebrity lips. Her bold images pack a thought provoking Pop Art punch, raising questions about the ideals of beauty and the transience of celebrity culture. Here she tells artrepublic about her work in the fashion industry, her maths degree detour and her admiration for Grayson Perry…

You have described your series of paintings as “collections”; in what ways are you influenced by your work in the fashion industry?

I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from the fashion industry, ranging  from themes of ideals of beauty, style and presentation in the media, to colour trends.Also the way I work is to make series or ‘collections’. Seeing works as a group with common stylistic elements for me strengthens the idea, as with seasonal collections in fashion.

Your ‘Violent Femmes’ collection distorts female faces with bold washes of colour – are you interested in how female images are so frequently manipulated in the media?

I do find it interesting how far it’s now possible with technology to alter and ‘improve’ an image towards what’s perceived to be perfection. I like to take that and add an element of disintegration or distortion.

Does the title ‘Violent Femmes’ refer to violence that women experience or administer? 

The images I started with in these works were mainly quite typical magazine beauty shots, with a strong feeling of passivity. Applying the paint in this way changed that energy altogether, which made me think of the name.

Are your glossy lips a metaphor for anything?

Extraordinary beauty and allure are inevitably transient… I think these perfect glossy pouts characterised by drips of colour represent this dissolution.

As a shoe designer do you think you’ll ever do a collection of paintings of feet?

Hmm, maybe one for those foot fetishists out there… no, not as yet .. but something I’m playing around with just now does have an element of shoes.

What made you become an artist and how did you get started? I’ve always loved creating things and drawing, so after an initial maths degree detour I started working in magazine design and art direction. My interest in fashion then led me to study a diploma in shoe design at the London College of Fashion. I’ve worked as a shoe designer for many years since, and though I’ve enjoyed it a lot I realised at one point that it wasn’t fully satisfying creatively .. so I started painting.

How do you approach the actual making of your work? In the fashion industry I’m constantly surrounded by images of women in this specific context. So the themes that I work with stem naturally from this. I’ll start with an idea, this can come from either doing some research, or an idea just randomly popping into my mind . I’ll mull it over for a while, then start work playing out the idea. Sometimes I’m happy with it straight away, and sometimes morphs into something slightly different.

What’s your medium? Anything which best lends itself to expressing my ideas, I’m quite happy to try new mediums and new approaches.

What would you say are the main themes you pursue? Beauty, celebrity and consumerism.

Where do you find inspiration? Fashion, advertising and art.

Which of your works are you most proud of? The first Lips series distilled and clarified for me the themes I’m interested in and the kind of look I like my work to have. The response to the work, especially 'Lips 02' also confirms that they are images which communicate something, and people relate to.

Do you care whether people like your work? Yes absolutely, I’d like my work to be attractive and for people to desire it, but primarily I have to like it.

What memorable responses have you had to your work? I get a lot of ‘I love your lips’!

What have you sacrificed for your art? In the beginning financial stability, but I’ve always been able to do shoe design alongside making art so it hasn’t felt like too much of a desperate sacrifice.

Do you suffer for your art? In a way, yes. In the period before an idea really comes together which I know I’m satisfied with, I can experience extreme self doubt. It’s definitely not a relaxing process.

When are you happiest? When I’ve completed a new series, gone away and come back to it with a fresh objective eye and realise I like it… and when I get a new idea to start work on, is exciting.

Which artists do you most admire? Grayson Perry, not only for his art, but because he is so extremely articulate about his work and his place in the current art world. Francis Bacon, seeing his paintings opened my mind to art.

What work of art would you most like to own? Anything by Bacon… or maybe ‘Green turban’ by Tamara De Lempicka, appealing to my fashiony side, I love the sumptuous use of colour and beautiful style.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing? I currently still do shoe design projects, so of course that… but I can’t imagine not making art.

If you would like further information of available works or to enquire about other works and artist’s we have in the gallery please call +44 (0)1273 724829 or email