Sara Pope painting of lips

Art exhibition kicks off festive season by showing power of colour red

As it begins to look a lot like Christmas, a Tottenham Court Road gallery is launching the new exhibition RED that investigates and celebrates the symbolism behind the festive colour. 

Sara Pope, the first female in over 700 years to have her work displayed in the Vatican, will kick-start the countdown to Christmas in Grove Gallery on 6 December with her provocative and powerful collection of art. 

As the colour with the longest wavelength, red is one of the most eye-catching of hues. 

Sara said: “I became really interested as to why, more than any other colour since I started painting, I’ve used the colour red. It sent me into this investigation to learn why red was so special. 

Sara is also interested in the anatomy of the mouth, another powerful communicator of emotion

“Red is one of the strongest colours as it reaches you first and can provoke emotional and psychological reactions, while exciting your nervous system.”

Carl Jung, an early 20th Century Swiss psychiatrist, once described colours as the “mother tongue of the subconscious” and an expression of the “main psychic functions of man” where red conjures the most powerful emotions, like passion, desire, love, courage and anger.

The colour is also integrated in religion and history dating back as far as the Ancient Egyptians in prehistoric art, before it was used by the Romans to represent victories, for nobility in the Renaissance and by the Soviet Union to represent communism and socialism and many other symbols today.  

It also became the colour of Christmas, thanks to the artwork of Thomas Nast, who designed the iconic 1931 Coca Cola advert that depicted Santa Claus in a bright red suit. 

While Santa was adorned in his red suit in Nast’s work as early as 1881, the 1931 Coca Cola advert was the commercial catalyst that kick-started his representation across the globe as being a man in a red suit. 

Sara is also interested in the anatomy of the mouth, another powerful communicator of emotion. 

Sara painted a portrait of Pope Francis in 2014, which now featured in the Vatican art collection

She said: “The mouth is how we communicate, it’s how we read emotion, it’s also how we become attracted and connect physically – through kissing.

“It’s also a good subject to explore the colour red through.

“The combination of the two is striking and evocative.” 

She hopes, as a result, her exhibition will provoke a reaction among viewers, to make them think and feel.

She added: “We go through life and don’t actually stop to think about a lot of things like colour, we don’t think about how the colour of the room we’re in actually changes the way we think. 

“So when you highlight something through art, or an exhibition, it takes people out of their sleep-walking and makes them become conscious of something for a moment.”

A special addition to the exhibition is Sara’s unique take on a self portrait – a painting of her own heart on a background of neon red that pulses in rhythm with her heartbeat.

It situates Sara, quite literally, as the beating heart of the vibrant exhibition. 

Her work is created by initially painting the lips of models with a makeup brush and lipstick, before specific lighting allows her to capture her subjects’ unique expressions in extensive photographic study. 

The photographs then provide the foundation for Sara’s painting process, involving several layers of thin oil-diluted paint, where she sometimes also mixes lipstick into the paint. 

The result is glossy and irresistible.

Sara’s talent is not only captured in London, for her work has also featured in Paris and Miami, and even the Vatican, after she painted a portrait of Pope Francis in 2014.

The Pope was so infatuated with the portrait, which was originally produced for Sara’s Rome exhibition, it was requested for display in the Vatican’s collection of art.

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