Sarah Lucas, a Young British Artist (YBA), the “bad girl” of British art, became famous in the late 1980s for her erotically changed sculptures and installations, which explored intersections of gender and power. Her work, constructed from found objects, is known for its visual puns and coarse humor which attacked cultural biases and the objectification of women.
Lucas grew up in a working class London environment to parents, who were able to work with their hands in carpentry, gardening, cooking, and sewing. At sixteen she left home, lived in squats in London, and became involved in the Squatters’ Movement and other social protests. Community spirit has always been a lasting influence for her. She graduated from art school at Goldsmiths, University of London in 1987.
In 1998, she first showed her work in the legendary group show “Freeze” with a set of large abstract aluminum sculptures and an installation of brick walls that “looked like brick-wall paintings.” “Freeze” launched a generation of artists, who came to be known as the ‘Young British Artists’ (YBA). While Damien Hirst and other male artists were getting attention and selling works, she herself fell out of view and stopped making art for a year. She would then emerge as a different kind of artist, working with found objects and focusing on art that dealt with sex, misogyny, and tabloid culture. This anger of hers was the dominant emotion in breakthrough pieces, one example being her 1993 “Concrete Boots,” a cast-concrete pair of work boots with razor blades embedded in the front.
Her installations of “Bunnies” were sculptures made from stuffed nylons or pantyhose with splayed legs. Sometimes aberrant limbs protruded and were clamped to a chair. Her “Bunnies” would evolve into the similarly themed Nud sculptures. Her powerful NUDs, baby talk for ‘nude’, were soft sculptures made from tubes of cotton and wire-stuffed tights, often rising from a coiled base for balance. They featured disembodied limbs and body parts posed suggestively. Later iterations would be made in bronze and resin.
From 2005-2006 Tate London presented the first survey exhibition of her work. In 2015, Lucas represented Britain at the 56th Venice Biennale with “SCREAM DADDIO” where she painted the wall of the British pavilion egg-yolk yellow, “a sea of custard.” Lucas has used the egg as a symbol of female generative power in a short film “Egg Massage” and in her 2018 piece “One Thousand Eggs (for Women).
Her first retrospective in the United States showed more than 150 works in sculpture, photography, and installation, which conjured psychosexual associations from food, clothing, and everyday items. It was first shown at New York’s New Museum and then moved to Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum in 2019 as “Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel.” This exhibition, her largest survey yet, showed double-entendre objects that mocked stereotypes of art and sexuality, but hinted at the inescapable fact of death. For “Au Naturel,” she made a site-specific piece, “This Jaguar’s Going to Heaven,” gluing Marlboro cigarettes to the front half of a Jaguar sedan. The back half of it was stuffed with hay and torched. Cigarettes again were used – along with fiberglass – in her sculpture, “Christ You Know It Ain’ Easy.” It showed the powerful rhythmic patterns of the crucified Christ and was first exhibited in 2004 at Tate Britain. In the New Museum, it was hung high up and dominated the gallery. At the Hammer Museum it was hung lower, almost within reach.