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Sarah Lucas Photo

Sarah Lucas

British Sculptor, Photographer, Installation and Performance Artist

Born: October 23, 1962 - London, United Kingdom
"With only minor adjustments, a provocative image can become confrontational - converted from an offer of sexual service into a castration image"
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Sarah Lucas Signature
"I think art should be amateur...It should be done for love. I've never seen art as a career and I still don't. If I wanted a career, or a fucking job, I would have gone into business."
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Sarah Lucas Signature

Summary of Sarah Lucas

Joining the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Gary Hume, Lucas came to the public's attention as one of the foremost contributors to the Young British Artists (YBA) movement. The YBAs gained world-wide notoriety in the late 1980s and early 1990s by using shock tactics to court the worlds of commerce and celebrity. Building her art through everyday objects - items of household furniture would often double as the human body for instance - Lucas brought a raw energy to works that offered blunt (many would say, obscene) commentaries on sensitive topics including sexuality, female objectification and death. Lucas topped the career highlight (though she insists that she does not have "a career") of the 1997 Sensation exhibition when she represented the UK at the 2015 Venice Biennale where she exhibited her typically controversial installation I SCREAM DADDIO. Having become disillusioned by the metropolitan art scene, she moved to the more rural surroundings of Suffolk where she works from home and at her own pace; and with, in her words, "her hands rather than her head".

Accomplishments

  • Carrying a particular grievance against what she saw as the male dominated contemporary art scene, Lucas pushed the limits of her practice to allow women's art to compete in domains from which women artists like herself had traditionally been excluded. As such, she can claim to be a pivotal figure in a late-twentieth-century shift in attitudes towards art produced by women and pointing the way for the next generations of young female artists.
  • Lucas often employs visual puns to lay bare what she sees as the absurdity of cultural biases and petty everyday situations. Her work is known for its course humor and its use of metaphor to attack gender tropes and the inane vernacular of the male working classes. In her sculpture Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (1992), she uses slang terms to define the model's sexual organs: breasts are "fried eggs" and the vagina is a "kebab".
  • Having experimented with minimalist sculpture while a student at Goldsmith's College, Lucas turned her attention to more immediate sources of imagery for inspiration, such as the British tabloid press. Inspired by the writings of the feminist Andrea Dworkin, she set about the task of challenging the casual objectification of women and dismantling the myth (as she saw it) of female sexual liberation. In the early self-portraits which helped make her name - such as Eating a Banana (1990) and Self Portrait with Fried Eggs (1996) - we see her attack narrow perspectives on female beauty in everyday visual culture.
  • Though she is associated with strident feminist statements, Lucas's starting point is generally her immediate access to materials which can range from furniture, food, concrete blocks, stockings and cigarettes. The found objects must be, however, sculptural and associative. Her sculptures are all headless (defined only by their genitals) and the only live human face to be seen in her work is her own which is omnipresent through a series of photographic self-portraits.

Biography of Sarah Lucas

Sarah Lucas Life and Legacy

The third of four siblings (two brothers and a sister), Lucas was born in 1962. Her father was a milkman and her mother was a cleaner and part-time gardener. The Lucas family lived on a council estate near the Holloway Road in North London. At the suggestion that she was an unhappy child, Lucas recalled: "I was very reserved when I was a little kid, I didn't even speak till I was three. So I'd find a corner somewhere and just make things, to keep myself company".

Important Art by Sarah Lucas

Progression of Art
1990

Eating a Banana

In Eating a Banana (1990) an androgynous looking Lucas is shown in a close shot, eating a banana and looking askance at the camera. The setting of the image appears to be a yard of some kind, lending the image an urban feel. Lucas's attire and confident gaze subvert the sexual connotations (the act of fellatio) of her actions in the image. This was one of a number of photographic self-portraits Lucas produced throughout the 1990s which portray the artist adopting different poses. She is shown, for instance, sitting in an armchair with her legs apart, two fried eggs placed over her breasts; sitting on a toilet; and standing in front of a makeshift washing line of underwear in what seems to be a forest or garden.

By "performing" Eating a Banana, Lucas counterposes the suggestive nature of her actions with the actuality of her defiant gaze and masculine clothing. This self-portrait invites comparisons to Lynda Benglis's infamous Centrefold (1974), in which she posed naked with a large dildo. However, while Benglis still reproduced the expectations of a naked woman in her early image, disrupting it albeit with a phallus, Lucas effectively replaces the phallus, gazing defiantly while fully clothed. Reflecting of her early self-portraits, Lucas said "I suddenly could see the strength of the masculinity about [them] the usefulness of [masculinity] to the subject struck me at that point, and since then I've used that".

Photograph - Tate, London

1992

Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab

Functioning as a critique on sexist attitudes, this sculpture features two fried eggs and a kebab placed on a wooden table below a photograph of the same arrangement as if in a photo frame. The eggs, freshly cooked each day, are located alongside each other, and the kebab, with its open pitta bread encasing kebab folds, is placed below. These food items depict the breasts and vagina by representing the well-known pun on words. Equally, the image becomes a reclining female nude, reducing the woman to what might be seen as her "essential" parts.

When Art Historian Anne M. Wagner says that Lucas' main task is "the mining of the semantic possibilities of everyday things", and when Lucas herself says that "everything is language, including objects", and declares, "composition is my work", she is describing her approach to sculpture as an arrangement. Speaking of this work, author Michelle Robecchi admired a "simplicity and formal directness, combined with a subtly perverse humour [that] evoke fetishism and mental associations with an ingenious insight, disquieting even the most innocent viewer". One must acknowledge the humor and act of play in the work, which is so fundamental to Lucas's worldview, and so central to the creative urge itself. Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab demonstrates Lucas's urge to play with the metaphors of street language.

Sculpture - Private Collection

1994

Au Naturel

Predating Tracy Emin's more famous (and more personal) My Bed by some three years, Au Naturel (the title of the work is the brand name printed on the mattress label) is a sculpture in which a yellowing, stained mattress sits slumped against a gallery wall. On the upper left hand side two melons have been inserted into cuts made in the mattress. They are placed above a water bucket, that opens outwards towards the viewer. On the right, two oranges and a courgette protrude from the mattress. The symbolism is, like Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab, crude and unambiguous. Presented at the controversial Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997, however, Au Naturel brought Lucas's fascination with crude sexual metaphors to a whole new global audience, and thereby confirmed her ability to confront (and quite likely offend) her audience through a flagrant play on base connotative associations.

Gilda Williams has described Au Naturel as "a portrait of a naked and amorous couple" (the penis is erect and the vagina is open) that amounts to "a vulgar composition of materials and vernacular language". The "couple" lay apart, very possibly in a state of pre or post-coitus. Academic Amna Malik, meanwhile, picked up on the work's blunt objectivity; there is, she says, "no apparent morality attached - no implication of guilt, shame, or embarrassment". There was, however, a bigger point to be made about Lucas's position within the contemporary art scene at the end of the twentieth century. For Malik the "sardonic and irreverent" nature of this work (and others) presented an afront to "assumptions about what kind of art women artists make". Indeed, Malik contests that Lucas's "shift between high and low art and culture operates as a shift between 'high' aesthetic ideas about the art object as a metaphoric play of meaning and its 'low' associations with the materiality of the literal object and its allusions to the genitals and sex".

Sculpture - Private Collection

1997

Bunny Gets Snookered

Bunny Gets Snookered was an installation for Sadie Cole's London gallery. It comprised a number of Bunny sculptures - including the most famous Pauline Bunny - placed on and around a full size snooker table. The Bunnies were stuffed nylons, with what appear to be aberrant limbs protruding from the head and each clamped to the back of a second-hand chair. The Bunnies all had splayed legs and could only be differentiated by coloured stockings that correspond with the different colours of the snooker balls. There is also three black and white photographic "pin ups" of one of the Bunnies on the wall. Later, individual Bunnies would go on to make them key works in Lucas' canon and point directly towards her legacy to Surrealism, especially Hans Bellmer's dolls and Louise Bourgeois's cloth sculptures. Her Bunnies would ultimately evolve, in fact, into her similarly themed, but more "solid", Nud sculptures.

Art historian Neal Brown has described how the Bunnies were "ranked like sexual conquests, pocketed, in a horrible polygamy, by the malign presence of the overbearingly male snooker table". When playing the game, being "snookered" means that no points can be scored and suggests that the bunnies are contained as objects and unable to progress in the game of life. For her part, Pauline Bunny, the most slender of the Bunnies, wears black stockings that correspond with the highest value ball in snooker. Black stockings are also widely considered the most sexually alluring shade. Gordon Burn describes, "Lucas's fascination with the social spaces that men carve out and aggressively make their own. Snooker halls, nicotined sheds, changing rooms, truckers' cabins, public bars and dodgy urinals keep on turning up in her work; territories from which women tend to be excluded except as the objects of casual put-downs, dirty jokes, or as pin-ups on the salted-peanut card hanging next to the pork scratchings behind the bar".

Sadie Coles HQ, London

2009

Nud 2

Part of a series of Nud sculptures - in an interview with Aida Edemariam, Lucas explained that "the word Nud [came] from a phrase of her mother's, 'in the nuddy', meaning naked" - Nud 2 is made of fluff stuffed into tights stiffened and shaped with wire. The visual effect is of limbs endlessly entwined. The limbs are not smooth but mottled, while the texture and color of the flesh is pallid and stony.

It is thought that Lucas first used tights in her art in 1992 when she stuffed them with newspaper while running The Shop with Tracy Emin. But the first of the Nud series came about, as Christine Patterson describes it, when her partner, the artist Julian Simmonds, presented her with a pair of old tights he had found in the garden shed: "Once she'd stuffed them with kapok and twisted them into shape [Lucas] had a 'eureka moment'". With this work the use of tights, whose everyday function is to regulate or conceal skin, becomes the skin itself. The contrast between the twisted limbs and the dark grey breeze blocks that they rest on, both situates these forms in the real-world as well isolating them to be displayed as artworks. Once again inviting sexual connotations, Nuds failed to shy away from bodily imperfections, and in so doing, she presented an afront to the airbrushed images that are presented through the popular media.

Displayed on a plinth of dark gray breeze-blocks, Nud 2 sits very close to the ground meaning that the viewer looks down on the artwork, but other Nud sculptures are presented at eye level (also on gray breeze blocks). Lucas has also produced the Nud Cycladic, a series that are more muscular and longer limbed than this example. The term "Cycladic" refers in fact to Bronze Age and early Neolithic carved marble sculptures that consisted of flattened figures that sometimes had arms wrapped around their bodies. Taken as a whole, then, the Nud series both mimics and alters the display conventions of classical sculpture.

2015

Maradona

I Scream Daddio was Lucas's British Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennial in 2015. It took the form of a display of different sculptural works set against a yellow painted pavilion split across multiple rooms. The bold Maradona works, one Deep Cream the other Gold Cup, were located one in front of the entrance of the pavilion and the other in an interior room. Turning the tradition of the reclining female nude on its head, the sculptures are cartoonish balloon-like displays of splayed limbs with a 14 foot erect penis in bright yellow hues made of resin. Blending with the yellow walls, Lucas wanted to create an upbeat piece of work; one that seems almost to celebrate the sensuality of human bodies. In an article by Adrian Searle of The Guardian, Lucas suggested that "The sculptures are set in a sea of custard, Crème Anglais in other words" and she chose that color because she wanted to "put us all in a good mood". Searle added that the sculptures and their surroundings had reminded Lucas "of meringues in a dessert, with [the famous British chef] Fergus Henderson providing a recipe for iles flottantes [in which a meringue floats of a yellow sauce base]".

Lucas's characteristic word play returns with Maradona which could be a pun on the name of the famous Argentinian footballer and the idea of a male Madonna. Of this Lucas says, "I love mixing up the sexes. I love that you can never get to the bottom of it. Having a penis is such a categoric thing, and we can live under its tyranny, but I enjoy the ambiguity". But when looking at her exhibition as a whole, Lucas was clearly not prioritizing the male form. The Pavilion also included crude casts of the lower half of nine of Lucas's female friends (her "muses") as well as the artist herself. The inspiration for these works was an earlier cast of Lucas's own body with a cigarette poking out of her vagina that had been destroyed in a studio fire in 2004. Here, each plaster cast, placed on furniture in different provocative poses, has a cigarette inserted into the navel, anus, or vagina.

Lucas has always maintained that being an artist should not be considered a career choice but something more spontaneous; something more "amateur" (in her words). Indeed, her somewhat insouciant attitude towards her art was nicely summed up in the following comment made directly in relation to the female Pavilion sculptures: "No one's told me off about the fannies [vaginas]. You don't tend to see 'em much, do you, outside of pornography".

56th Venice Biennial, British Pavilion I Scream Daddio exhibition.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Sarah Lucas
Influenced by Artist
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Movements & Ideas
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    Contemporary Feminist Art
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    Contemporary Sculpture
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Content compiled and written by Claire Hope

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"Sarah Lucas Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Claire Hope
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
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First published on 03 Mar 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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