Painting on Men with Lipstick. An Interview with Esther Zitman

Esther Zitman uses words like “smudginess” when describing her work. Her seriesA lèvre and Sugar are a result of spontaneity, curiosity and a little bit of no fucks given. Make-up is not only meant for one’s lips and sugar is not only for coffee!

Zitman smothers a fat layer of lipstick over the faces of vintage male models in a stream of consciousness that follows no rules. Her work targets the unrealistic standards of flawlessness proposed by the media. She expresses fascination for this “fake world”, a world in which make-up brands “represent a non-existent world and a fake promise of eternal beauty”, and she is most annoyed by people taking selfies all the time.

Esther Zitman. Sugashoe VII and Sugashoe V. Photography. 2011. Edition of 30.

What inspires you to use vintage style images to work from?

I have been collecting fashion magazines since I was fourteen, fifteen years old. At that age these magazines gave me a view of the ‘big world’ full of luxury and beauty. Older and wiser I began to understand it’s a fake world and I could use these vintage images to make new artworks.

In your action of adding lipstick/sugar to an image, you create something new. Do you also consider how you destroy the original?

Yes, I’m destroying the original, but the pictures come from magazines so they are not unique.

Martin Creed. Half the air in a given space. 2004.

Which artists do you look up to?

I love the work of Martin Creed, he’s an English artist. He makes small interventions in the world, using existing materials or situations. He uses whatever medium seems suitable. My favourite work is Half the air in a given space, it’s a room with half of its space filled with balloons.

What identity do the men in A lèvres have?

They almost seem aggressive to me and macho.

Esther Zitman. Sideral and Le Fetiche. Photography. 2012. Edition of 30.

You have mentioned previously that you find the act of painting over the men’s faces with lipstick as satisfying, what part of the action and/or final aesthetic do you find satisfying?

Starting to paint with the lipstick is very satisfying, I’m used to putting lipstick on my lips in a neat way. But painting thickly is almost like wasting good lipstick, it’s difficult to get it right. I made the best lipstick pictures very quickly, almost in one move.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Gender inequalities.



Written by Lucy Henshall for The Public House of Art



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