At Tate Modern's new Rothko exhibition I engaged in my favourite hobby of watching the people watching the art. One man sat on a small folding chair provided by the gallery, staring at Red on Maroon with the imperturbable concentration that you normally only see on fisherman waiting to catch a particularly elusive trout.
Mark Rothko apparently said that he wanted people to cry when they looked at his work. In fact, the effect of the paintings commissioned in 1958 for the restaurant of a Four Seasons hotel (they were never actually displayed there as Rothko decided that a private dining room wasn't an appropriate environment for his work) is more of a rich, meditative calm. They are arresting, but then they hold the gaze, and soothe it.
Having been quite cynical about the artist's power pre-Tate, after visiting the exhibition I channelled my cultural change of heart into the idea of finding a lipstick in Rothko red that would capture the mood of the paintings. The artist might have used a multitude of shades, from terracotta to maroon, but his most quintessential colour seemed to me a muddy oxblood. My perpetual search for the perfect red lipstick would come to a glorious conclusion in the form of this deep, contemplative hue rather than a shrill tomato or geranium.
Models at both the Luella and Miu Miu shows for autumn/winter sported maroon lips, but tracking down an exact shade was difficult. Some of the best bets were Estée Lauder hydra lustre in black cherry, or Giorgio Armani's lip wax compact in chianti. When it comes to creating the perfect shade, however, there's nothing like mixing your own paints (well, getting someone else to do it). I took a Rothko postcard to Prescriptives' Custom Blend service at Selfridges (£50 for two lipsticks) where the consultant whipped up a shade that matched Rothko's paintings and flattered my skin tone. There's something pleasingly creative about watching tiny pats of white, red, ochre, orange, sienna and blue lipstick, followed by mint flavouring, mixed up in a pot, then hardened into a little, bullet-shaped work of art.Reuse content