'To me the photos are more mysterious than the sculptures, in terms of knowing where I am. They seem to be so much a matter of taking a stance, but even I find it quite difficult to know why they work, or why, when I'm looking through a whole bunch of shots, a particular one works. I think that question 'Where am I?' is the ambiguous area of the whole enterprise'
(S. Lucas, quoted in M. Collings, S.L. Sarah Lucas, London 2002, p. 59).
Subversive and darkly comic, Fighting Fire with Fire (6 Pack) is a billboard-proportioned work that exemplifies how Sarah Lucas challenges stereotypical representations of gender and sexuality through her artistic practice. In this work, the repeated series of 6 black and white photographs depicting the artist brazenly smoking a cigarette, have been stacked in two rows of three and subsumed with acrylic paint in fiery hues of yellow, red and orange, creating a punning reference to the work's title. Executed in 1997, this self-portrait marks a breakthrough moment in the artist's career where she adopts an overtly male posture as a mean to emphasise her own femininity. Presenting herself in an intentionally masculine and unadorned way, Lucas realized that her own appearance was in itself a way of undermining traditional ideas of the femininity, stating 'I suddenly could see the strength of the masculinity about it - the usefulness of it to the subject struck me at that point, and since then I've used that' (S. Lucas quoted in Barber, 'Drag Queen', Observer Magazine, London, 30 January 2000, p.16).
Characteristic of her practice, the title is also a pun relating to these male connotations, referring to both the aspirational abdominal six pack as well as the requisite quantity of case of beer. Indeed the one other version of Fighting Fire with Fire executed in a set of 20 and exhibited at Sadie Coles, 1997, drawing connotations with a pack of cigarettes. Responding to attack by using a similar method as one's attacker, Lucas' title of Fighting Fire with Fire is a pun of her own assertion as an artist in a male-dominated art world.
Playing on the notions of archetypal male portraiture, here Lucas assumes the postures of masculine sitter, disinterested in the gaze of the viewer and comfortable in her own position. Clearly a reference to Andy Warhol's multiple self-portraits from the 1960s in their seriality, Lucas departs these smooth Pop images in her raw presentation, offering a defiantly virile depiction of self as an artist. Lucas' confrontational self-portraits have informed her wider artistic practice which includes collage, sculpture and installation. A pendant to her flaccid headless sculptures, Lucas' self-portraits presents herself to the viewer with an intense frontality and a tantalizing ambiguity. Making explicit reference to her career as artists, here the artist is both author and subject. Lucas' unapologetic positioning of herself in this way underlines her profound interest in subverting traditional notions of female identity. 'It was sort of an accident, the images-of-me thing,' the artist explained. 'But it did help because it cemented a relationship between myself and the work' (S. Lucas, quoted in M. Collings, S.L. Sarah Lucas, London 2002, p. 59).
A regular feature in the artist's practice, the cigarette, limply perched from her mouth acts as both the badge of rebellion and as symbol of female strength and independence in a man's world. The bawdy euphemism for sexuality and rebellious independence, the cigarette embodies the repressed eroticism and maverick individuality at the heart of Sarah Lucas' work. Cigarettes have featured regularly in Lucas's work, as for 'possessing time in a palpable way, stopping to pause and contemplate It's really important to have areas of your life - whether it's walking into a pub or smoking - where you suddenly feel you've found your own time zone.' (S. Lucas quoted in S. Kent, 'Young at Art', in Time Out, October 7-14 1998, p. 42).
A key figure of the so-called Young British Artists movement alongside Damien Hirst, Lucas's unique visual language has helped to define a generation. In Lucas's work, the material, the subject and the title define a conceptual attitude. Fighting Fire with Fire (6 Pack) presents a façade that is deliberately masculine, defiant and tough, presenting us with an icon of punk rock femininity for the 20th century. The provocative image is one of Lucas's best known portraits, a version of which is in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London, the National Portrait Gallery, London and the British Council as well as the front cover of her catalogue raisoneé. The self-portrait was also used as the main image for the Channel Four documentary 'This is Modern Art' in 1999. Lucas is currently exhibiting at the Venice Biennale and has a highly anticipated upcoming show at the Whitechapel Gallery, London opening this October.