BRITISH PAVILION: WHO IS SARAH LUCAS?
From notorious YBA to the art world’s quiet 'Rude Girl', the artist hits the Venice Biennale
by Ellie Howard
Once described as the "the most unabashedly all-balls-out, rock'n'roll of the Young British Artists", Sarah Lucas is representing the UK Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
So how does it work? How does the woman whose work was previously regarded as the most brash and bawdy of the YBA’s become the most respected? Steering away from the autobiographical, Lucas has never sought the limelight, and in recent years has even tried her upmost to deflect it. But the question begs: Who Really Is Sarah Lucas? If not a bundle of contradictions.
Her self portraits taken in 1990, are an initial insight. Sat back pensively, with a limp cigarette protruding from her downturned mouth; a young Lucas presents a punk portrait of a defiant woman. With an air of nonchalance, she has quietly watched the UK art market swell with the egocentricity of her fellow YBA contemporaries. Yet there has never been any sibling-like rivalry amongst her peers, as she early on stepped forward from the line-up. Today Lucas is unmatched. Damien Hirst readily admits, she’s the “greatest artist I know”.
Her personal appearance is deemed androgynous, and her lank hair, un-powdered face and gold-tapped teeth may seem almost anti-sexual. Yet ironically her art presents pure sex. Her early works had an unabashedly licentious humour; “Au Naturel”(1994) was comprised of an erect cucumber and a bucket sitting on soiled mattresses, expectantly.
Hiding under her big jackets and big boots, Lucas has always kept her cards close to her chest. It was no easy feat coming into the fray as a young artist, and at times Lucas understandably lacked confidence. But as the 56th Venice Biennale approaches, there is a sense she has become more certain of her abilities, conquering and claiming her individualism. Sarah Lucas has ripened with age, just like one of her many suggestive fruits.
At 52, Lucas has outgrown shock-tactics and the lewd sexual vernacular that characterized her early works, and brought her tabloid fame. She’s created a career that has brought her both controversy and acclaim, and transformed her from rude girl to respected artist. Her most recent retrospective, “SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble”, held at the Whitechapel Gallery, London presented a laconic wit and a sculptural sensibility. As collaborator and long-term friend, gallerist Sadie Coles said the exhibition “helped refocus attention” away from her wild days, but added that her two-decade-long career has been possible because Lucas “chooses to remain slightly off the radar and follows her own slightly eccentric path”.