Sarah Lucas’s use of commonplace objects throughout her career harkens back to her beginnings as a struggling artist. “My criteria were: it has to be readily available/cheap (or I can’t find it/afford it), it has to interest me and it has to interest others” (S. Lucas, quoted in B. Ruf, “Conversation with Sarah Lucas,” Sarah Lucas: Exhibitions and Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2005, p. 29). For over 30 years, the artist has used everyday items like newspapers, stockings, cigarettes and food to create sexualized blobs, legs and genitalia — a provocative body of work that confronts the traditional notions of power, gender and identity. With her bold and bawdy approach to art, Lucas subverts the social norms relating to sex, often in humorous, shocking and disorienting ways. “By taking the everyday so far out of its context, it becomes almost absurd and tasteless. Sarah uses bananas and melons, toilet pots and slot machines in order to express her ideas about men and women" (A. Paalman, Self Portraits. Caldic Collection, Rotterdam, 1998, p. 144).
In her 2012 sculpture Maggi, Lucas transforms ubiquitous household items — a hanger, two light bulbs and a toilet — into the figure of her friend and fellow artist Maggi Hambling. Maggi exemplifies Lucas’s ability to connect with art history: using found objects becomes a variation of the Dada readymade, while the object-turned-flesh recalls the anthropomorphism of Surrealism.
The body and sexuality are pervasive and prevalent themes for Lucas, and, through Maggi, she also challenges the complex history of the female nude by disregarding “traditional” materials. Lucas’s employment of unusual materials and visual puns (bulbs for a woman’s “headlights”, for example) satirizes the perception of women as a summation of objectified body parts. While the imagery in the sculpture is straightforward, preconceptions of the toilet as an unsanitary dumping ground humorously displace any sense of romance or eroticism historically found in the female form. Lucas, however, “firmly declar[ed] that, contrary to popular interpretation, she did not view her friend literally as a toilet bowl but as an esteemed magi in the biblical sense, personified by ‘a piece of illuminated sanitary ware’” (L. Buck, “Five go wild in Hastings: Hambling, Lucas and co are celebrated at the UK’s Jerwood Gallery", The Art Newspaper, 30 October 2018, via www.theartnewspaper.com). Lucas chooses instead to focus on the shapeliness of the toilet to portray the familiarity of her subject, relating more closely to the kinship between Lucas and Hambling.
Most recently, Sarah Lucas enjoyed the first American survey — and largest presentation — of her work at the New Museum, New York (2018-2019). She was included in the group exhibition Freeze (1988), which was organized by Damien Hirst, and opened The Shop in 1993 with Tracey Emin, a storefront where the pair made and sold tchotchkes such as ashtrays, badges and t-shirts. Lucas has exhibited internationally at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1993); Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1996); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1997); the Freud Museum, London (2000); Tate Modern (2002); and Tate Britain (2004). She represented Britain at the 2015 Venice Biennale.