COMMUNICATION strategist, writer and artist Sarah Britten began drawing with lipstick many years ago. But it was only when she left her job to complete her PhD and was home alone, "going quietly loopy" in 2002, that she tried the technique on thick, shiny cardboard.
Unlike the paper she'd been using until then, cardboard didn't absorb the oil and the lipstick remained moist and workable for much longer. This also allowed Britten to etch words into her paintings and the writing became as much a part of the work as the image itself. (The drawback of working with lipstick is that it takes a long time to dry, and because it is so delicate, the work must be framed behind glass.)
Thus began a hobby, which, says Britten, started as "an intellectual exercise in the sense that the medium was the message and why (in the early days) I painted subjects with mythical, feminist connotations like apples, roses, chillies and pomegranates".
These days, using lipstick on Triplex - the thick, shiny cardboard used by advertising agencies to mount layouts and also by architects to build models - she paints cityscapes, bulls and bears (Britten's grandfather worked in Diagonal Street), fruit, flowers and animals, including cats, horses, rhinos and Nguni cattle.
The first public exhibition of 32 of Britten's paintings takes place at art gallery-cum-restaurant Velo Café, in Braamfontein. The show will focus primarily on her "Joburg series" of paintings, which was inspired when the artist became involved in an international initiative to launch the Range Rover Evoque in 2010. Range Rover's Pulse of the City campaign invited four "City Shapers" (influential people who are perceived as passionate about their cities) from major cities around the world to become brand ambassadors for the vehicle. Each city was given colours with which to work.
"If Joburg had been given a colour other than bright pink, it would never have occurred to me to start painting the city," says Britten.
Finding lipsticks in colours other than pinks, reds and oranges isn't easy and the artist was delighted when she found a retailer at the Randburg Flea Market who even sells black lipstick. Darker colours, she says, allow her to bring greater depth to her work.
The work is grouped into themes: Skyline, which includes colourful and expressionist pieces, as well as the largest piece, Irrational Exuberance; Zoo City, which - inspired by Lauren Beukes's novel - portrays the skyline and animals; Ngunis, which considers the cattle and their place within Zulu culture, as well as urbanis ation and the literal presence of cattle within the city (here, Britten uses eyeliner to draw the outlines); and Sisyphus In The City, which combines a human figure with landscapes and allusions to the Johannesburg skyline.
Britten will donate 10% of exhibition sales to the Home of Hope in Hillbrow: "It bothered me that I paint the Hillbrow tower and make it look pretty when we all know what goes on over there. So I decided to donate to the nongovernmental organisation which rescues girls from sex and drugs slavery."
. Lipstick art by Sarah Britten, Velo Café, 85 Juta Street, Braamfontein, from July 2 to 28.