Sarah Lucas is a British artist known for bawdy, mischievous and confrontational sculpture, photography and installation. She arrived on the English art scene via the 1988 group show, Freeze, alongside several other young British artists coming out of Goldsmiths, University of London—among them the curator/artist Damien Hirst.Read More
Lucas is a feminist who uses raunchy and morbid humour, irony and sexual puns to explore everyday English culture and sexual and psychological tensions. Her works reflect and satirise misogynist norms in general life, tabloids and pornography. In some of her earliest work (from 1991) this was done through a series of enlarged spreads of extracts from tabloid newspapers that exemplified seedy working-class male attitudes towards women.
In her photographic self-portraits—starting with the seminal Eating a Banana (1990)—she adopts a confrontational macho or 'butch' appearance while acting as an object of male desire through sexual euphemisms and suggestive body language. Sometimes this involves produce such as an uncooked chicken, fried eggs, bananas or fish acting as substitutes for male or female sexual organs. The same principle is extended to her installations, including Au Naturel (1994), in which two melons and a bucket alongside two oranges and a cucumber on an old mattress are used to represent a heterosexual couple in bed.
Alongside perishable produce, a common early motif in the artist's work was cigarettes. Whether the cigarettes act as the material of her work—as in Self Portrait with Cigarettes (2000)—or are seen in hand during one of her more vulnerable self-portrait photographs—such as Human Toilet Revisited (1998)—they are a strong presence in her art. They are a means of asserting independence and introversion, and are crucial to Lucas for art-making. They are a conjoined symbol of sex and death—a psychological paradox that fascinates the artist.
This use of commonplace items—from cigarettes to household furniture (including a freezer)—is typical of Lucas' sculptural practice. Following in the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp, who pioneered the use of the 'ready-made', the renegade Lucas sees the ironic and euphemistic potential in certain everyday objects. Her 1996 Is Suicide Genetic?, made from a toilet bearing writing, may be seen as a direct nod to Duchamp's 1917 Fountain.
Combinations of such ready-made items were sometimes used by Lucas as stand-ins for fragmented or whole bodies, as in Bitch (1995), where a table, T-shirt, two melons and a vacuum-packed smoked fish mimic a female body. Lucas positioned these ambiguous forms to resemble parts or the whole of the human body in sexual poses and emphasise organs associated with sex and desire.
A hallmark of her more recent sculpture (since 2009) has been the fleshy, human-like, long tubular forms made with stuffed tights and wire. These are arranged provocatively to reinforce their representation of sexualised female limbs. The way they twist and curve, sometimes engulfing themselves, is evocative of an intimate embrace. Lucas first began experimenting with the stuffed stockings in her 'Bunny' series (started in 1997).
Lucas' ambiguous forms are now often combined with common, art-irreverent materials like cinder blocks, merino sheep's jaws and ceramic toilets. In constructions such as Bike (2011), the limb-like tubular forms intertwine with these objects to form twisted corporeal parodies—caricatures that mimic misogynist sexual stereotypes.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2017