'It was sort of an accident, the images-of-me thing. But it did help because it cemented a relationship between myself and the work' (S. Lucas, quoted in M. Collings, Sarah Lucas, London, 2002, p. 59).
It has been suggested that these self portraits are the key to understanding the work of Sarah Lucas. One of the leading Young British Artists of the 1990s, they were taken across a period of eight years, from when Lucas was struggling to gain recognition, to the height of her fame. The photographs have become the most famous and celebrated by the artist and her work is never analysed without reference to them, as each alludes to a different manner with which Lucas has tackled her main theme, sexuality and gender.
Although the representation of the self has been a common theme amongst many prominent contemporary artists, Lucas' were strikingly different in their apparent honesty. Unlike Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons, Lucas does not adopt a disguise or character, she presents herself as we know she appears in reality. However these images appear more ironic than the other staged works, there is no style to them, what you see is what you get.
There is no apparent narrative to the photographs or any supposed continuity between them. All are minimalist with sparse production, presenting Lucas in her own clothes, in often empty environments and with simple and limited props. The colours are subdued, and the images themselves are not particularly vivid or stand out in format. Despite this, the works seem to say a great deal, and this conundrum appears to be at the heart of the photographs-they challenge the viewer to ask if something so simple and apparently created with so little effort can really say anything profound.
The photographs certainly achieve this. Each work explicitly plays on Lucas' gender and appearance. The dominant theme in Lucas' work has been modern representations of the male and the female, and challenging societies norms by shocking and confronting the viewer with alternatives. In these images, the artist manipulates her own androgynous appearance by adopting masculine poses and stances, or by wearing male and gender neutralising clothing. Despite this Lucas is always explicitly female, and always hinting at female sexuality. Eating a Banana is the most explicit of all the self portraits in this regard, as is the one where she stands in front of a clothes line of women's underwear, referencing what lies beneath her male exterior.
Lucas constantly plays with male and female difference, particularly with phallic symbols. Despite what in some works appears to be a militant or aggressive attitude towards this theme, other photographs showcase the humorous aspects of the artist's work. In Fried Eggs, she uses elements of metaphor and cartoon with a comic result. Lucas intends to shock her audience through the crudeness of this humour and the base nature of some of the photographs; such as Human Toilet Revisited, in which she confronts the viewer with an image of herself on the toilet. This coarseness adds another element to the gendered nature of the work. It is challenging the viewer by using an almost stereotypically masculine form of comedy and behaviour. Presenting a woman in such an unrefined manner is uncommon and the photographs ask their audience to react to a woman being rude in such a way. Through the Self Portraits, Lucas invites her audience to think about the crude gender symbols and divisions which are accepted within society.
The self portraits also speak directly to many of the other works in Lucas' artistic output. From general themes such as the use of food, toilets and her own body, to the exact use of the same prop, they seem to unite the oeuvre of the artist, and explain the themes within her work. This is explicitly achieved by the artist's own use of the images within other works. For example, Fighting Fire with fire, in which she is shown smoking, has been used in a variety of other contexts and Eating a Banana has been incorporated into collages such as Great Dates (1990-1991). This use of the works by the artist herself shows how important she views them to be.