A sensual stream of light runs through the sinuous anthropomorphic forms of Nahuiolin, witnessing Sarah Lucas’ distinctive and provocative visual language. The twisted body, infused with sexual energy, is central to Lucas’ work and finds a delicate and seductive example in the lithe intertwining bodily volumes of Nahuiolin. Moving from the fleshy physicality of her nylon-tight sculptures, begun in 2009, Lucas explores the smoothly liquefied and elegantly reflecting surface of polished bronze. As the critic Alexandra Parigoris has stated: ‘The unashamedly sexual innuendos of the bronze forms retain the sense of the hand that fashioned them. They twist and turn with a gracefulness that the reflections underscore and undercut at the same time. … Lucas’ bronzes … playfully misbehave and are saucily evocative with a lightness of touch that is not new to Lucas but a mark of her understanding of materials’ ability to create imagery that knows no barriers’ (A. Parigoris, ‘Sarah Lucas in bronze’, in Sarah Lucas SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble, exh. cat., Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2013, p. 72). Another example taken from the edition of Nahuiolin was situated centrally in the sculpture garden at the 2013 Venice Biennale’s Central Pavilion, together with six other works in bronze by the artist. This encounter between Lucas’ lavish uncanny forms and the Giardini’s institutional spaces was prophetic of the artist’s official consecration as one of most important figures in contemporary British art as representative of the United Kingdom at the upcoming 2015 Venice Biennale. An example from the Nahuiolin’s edition also featured in Lucas’ celebrated solo-show Sarah Lucas: SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2013.
With its abstracted biomorphic mingling of forms, Nahuiolin presents the same controversial and incisive take on the human body that characterised Lucas’ rise as a key member of the Young British Artists in the early 1990s, together with breakthrough figures such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili. Lucas’ recent turn to such a historically loaded material as bronze witnesses a will to rewrite a pre-existing legacy of masculine dominance in sculpture, referencing and subverting the visual language of a pantheon of iconic male figurative artists, from British Modern Masters such as Henry Moore, to preeminent figures such as Constantin Brancusi. Lucas’ challenge to preconception about gender and sexuality is mirrored in the title, referring to the Mexican painter and artist’s model Carmen Mondragón, a regular on the early 1920s Paris art scene. Once divorced from her husband, Mondragón relocated to Mexico City, where she became a star of its artistic circle. She modelled for artists such as Diego Rivera and Tina Modotti, her mesmerising beauty captured in nude photographs by Edward Weston. Nicknamed Nahui Olin by one of her lovers, an Aztec symbol of renewal literally meaning ‘four movements’ and used to describe earthquakes, the work’s cryptic title not only poetically illustrates Nahuiolin’s elegant flow of forms in the waves of the polished bronze, but also the sensual disruptive energy of a female figure Lucas admires and empathises with.