British Sculptor, Photographer, Installation and Performance Artist
London, United Kingdom
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".
- 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
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
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".
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.
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".
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Sarah Lucas
- Sarah LucasBy Matthew Collings
- Sarah Lucas: I Scream DaddioBy Sarah Lucas, D.H. Lawrence and Julian Simmons
- Sarah Lucas: Au NaturelBy Amn Malik
- Sarah Lucas: Ordinary ThingsBy Sara Lucas, Lisa Le Feuvre, Deborah Orr, Anne Wagner, Gilda Williams
- The MugBy Sarah Lucas and Oliver Garbay
- Sarah Lucas: After 2005, Before 2012By Angus Cook, Angus Fairhurst, Sarah Lucas
- Sarah Lucas: the future's yellowBy Lynn Barber / The Times / May 10, 2015
- I sometimes wonder how long I've gotBy Gordon Burn / The Guardian / October 17, 2005
- Sarah Lucas: A Young British Artist grows up and speaks outBy Christina Patterson / The Independent / July 21, 2012
- Interview: Sarah LucasBy Charlotte Higgins / The Guardian / May 6, 2015
- The Saturday interview: Sarah LucasBy Aida Edemariam / The Guardian / May 27, 2011
- Sarah LucasBy Adrian Searle / The Guardian / May 5, 2015
- Fried eggs and spam: behind the scenes at the Venice Biennale with Sarah Lucas - exclusive videoOur PickSarah Lucas gives a private tour of I Scream Daddio, her British pavilion show at Venice Biennale 2015
- Tracey Emin discusses The ShopOur PickTracey Emin discusses The Shop Emin and Lucas' collaborative project initiated in 1993
- Maybe I'm just an old hippie - Adrian Searle interviews Sarah LucasControversial former Young British Artist Sarah Lucas tells Adrian Searle about her constantly evolving installation, Situation Franz West, a year-long project curated by Lucas and featuring juxtapositions of her own work and that of her contemporaries
- An introduction to Sarah LucasCurator Ann Gallagher introduces some of Sarah Lucas's key works in the run up to the 2015 Venice Biennale