Wednesday Art Idol

Sarah Lucas: interrogating gender norms through euphemism and innuendo
By Finn Blythe | Art | 17 November 2021
Above:

Self Portrait with Fried Eggs, Sarah Lucas, 1996

This article is part of HERO Dailies – Essential culture, curated daily and also part of Wednesday Art Idol

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Since her breakout show, Penis Nailed to a Board, held at south London’s City Racing gallery in 1992, British artist Sarah Lucas has never shied from making a statement. Working with sculpture, photography and installation, the Goldsmiths graduate and prominent YBA member has honed her provocative and playful oeuvre to question culturally prescribed notions of femininity and sex. 

Using Marcel Duchamp, the godfather of conceptual art, and his legendary urinal installation as a constant reference throughout her career, Lucas harnesses the associative power of found objects and the ready-made in her work. This punky, DIY aesthetic was originally born from necessity during Lucas’ years as a cash-strapped student but has become a defining feature of her practice ever since, one that reveals our own Freudian conditioning through her suggestive handling of everyday objects.

Au Naturel, Sarah Lucas, 1994

These have included buckets, fried eggs, tights, chairs, courgettes, newspapers, Lucas’ ability to find sexual euphemism in just about anything reflects both our own cultural obsession and its mood of comedic absurdism. In Sausage Film for example, one of the artist’s earliest video works made in 1990, Lucas is filmed being fed a sausage by her then-partner, fellow YBA artist Gary Hume, while suppressing laughter between mouthfuls. Another key early work, Au Naturel (1994), sees a grubby mattress half-propped against the wall, while a pair of melons and a bucket sit next to two oranges and a cucumber in an irreverent recreation of a couple post-coitus.

Food and its connections to human body parts has remained central to Lucas’ work. Sculptures like Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (1992), Bitch (1994), Chicken Knickers (1997) and One Thousand Eggs: For Women (2018) offer visceral objectification of human orifices. Similarly, in photographic self-portraits like Eating a Banana (1990) and Self-Portraits with Fried Eggs (1996), Lucas challenges conventional gender stereotypes by juxtaposing masculine identity tropes with overt sexual innuendo. With a direct and uncompromising gaze fixed directly at the camera, the artist’s androgynous appearance and James Dean-inspired macho posturing taps into the same mood of sexual ambivalence as her sculptures.

Chicken Knickers, Sarah Lucas, 1997

I Scream Daddio, Venice Biennale, 2015

Moving between giant sculpted phalluses, cigarettes protruding from the orifices of nude plaster casts and yolk-yellow walls that evoked her career-long fascination with eggs, Sarah Lucas’ 2015 commission for the British Pavillion in Venice was a distillation of the artist’s provocative spirit. 

The plaster casts, which featured only legs, lay dotted throughout the space straddling or lounging over domestic furniture, another recurring motif of Lucas’ work since her Bunny series in the mid-90s. The toilet in particular, no doubt a direct connection to Duchamp’s urinal, appeared several times, with its strangely anthropomorphic qualities combining with the coquettish pose of the cast limbs. The cigarettes that poked out between their legs represented what they so often do in Lucas’ work: an obviously phallic symbol but also one of women’s liberty.

Among a number of other works were a series of bronze casts that emulated Lucas’ previous sculptures using stuffed pantyhose. In the aforementioned Bunny series for example, Lucas built upon Louise Bourgeois’ mutant stocking sculptures by stuffing tights to give them the appearance of abstract figures that she wrapped around chairs. Their bulges and curves were also present in the bronze-cast Tit Cat sculptures that Lucas showed in Venice, whose wiry feline forms drooped with black orbs suggestive of breasts.

I Scream Daddio, installation view, Venice Biennial, Sarah Lucas, 2015

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