Self-Portrait with Fried Eggs, 1996
Sarah Lucas has for a very long time (and continues to be) the number one in my top five of favourite contemporary artists (the number two to five of which are Jenny Saville, Wangechi Mutu, Cathy Wilkes and Johana Vasconcelos). A lot of my art studies were focussed on sculptural practices by female artists as well as self-portraiture, so she became one of my go-to artists. I wasfascinated with her confrontational self-portraits and innuendo-filled work as these were practices rarely adopted by female artists. A leading player in the Young British Artist group of the late 1980s and early 1990s, her ‘ladette’ personification critiqued chauvinism and sexism from a very British perspective. Using everyday materials, such as worn furniture, clothing, fruit, vegetables, newspapers, cigarettes, cars, resin, plaster, neon lamps and light fittings, the grungy, abject appearance of many of her works belied the serious and complex subject matter they addressed. Lucas makes constant reference to the human body, questioning gender definitions and challenging macho culture. The use of food to represent or stand in for sexual body parts was a common theme in Lucas's work of the 1990s to reveal and subvert objectification of the body in vernacular language. For example, in Au Natural (1994) Lucas used a mattress, bucket, melons and cucumber to parody stereotypes around sexualised bodies and mysogynistic tabloid culture. Her fleshy and anthropomorphic sculptures of around the same time in contrast underscored sexual, psychological and social tensions.
Au Naturel (1994)
“I use sexist attitudes because they are there to be used. I get strength from them …With only minor adjustments, a provocative image can become confrontational - converted from an offer of sexual service into a castration image … I'm dipping into the culture, pointing a finger: directing attention to what's there” [Sarah Lucas].
Lucas’s first self-portrait, Eating a Banana (1990) changed the artist’s perception of her 'masculine' appearance which she saw as a disadvantage, to being something she could use in her art. Through her self-portraits she presented an identity which challenged stereotypical representations of gender and sexuality in two dimensions as her sculptural and installations did in three dimensions. For me, Self Portrait with Fried Eggs (1996) is the most iconic image in the group of twelve photographs in the series. It would have been my own artistic retort to comments as I was growing up to my own cleavage (or lack thereof)!
Eating a Banana (1990)
Lucas’s ouvre is about the everyday, the abject and the epic. Her work is crude, sleazy and funny. The continued use of visual puns throughout her career have been aggressively impudent and both shock and amuse - they are not for the faint-hearted. Lucas is representing Britain at the 56th Venice International Art Biennale 2015 with her major solo exhibition, “I Scream Daddio”, in the British Pavilion (9 May - 22 November). I first saw Lucas’s work in the 2004 Tate exhibition “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. Although I have seen her work in a number of group and solo exhibitions since, eleven years after that first exhibition I am very excited to be visiting I Scream Daddio in October as part of a birthday weekend visit to that beautiful city. It will be interesting to see the juxtaposition of her work in such majestic surroundings.