Project Women artists

This project is specifically about British artist Sarah Lucas and involves annotating images of four of her works and relating them to the ‘isms’ so far discussed on the course.

The first work is ‘Au Naturel 1994 Mattress, water bucket, melons, oranges and cucumber’:

Au Naturel 1994 Mattress, water bucket, melons, oranges and cucumber by Sarah Lucas

What this work depicts is pretty transparent. The sexual organs of both the woman and the man are constructed out of fruit and a copper bucket and these are placed on a bare mattress which is lying on the floor. The work is a sculpture of a man and a woman lying in bed naked and ready for sex – ‘au naturel’ as it were…The top of the mattress is bent and leans against  a wall. The use of everyday objects to construct the sexual organs, such as the melons for the woman’s breasts,  references the use of such words in popular slang. In this way Lucas is showing how sexuality is embedded in language through association with everyday objects. Arguably this could also be taken as an illustration of how the roles of men and women are culturally determined and patriarchal society is perpetuated. This idea is further reinforced by the fact the fact that the woman is lying on her back with her sexual organs available to the rampant male by her side, which parodies the role of the woman as presented in popular culture. Placing a man and a woman side by side in a work of art also hints at the question of the role of both sexes in art and perhaps more relevantly the role of women in art (or the lack of recognition of such).

The second work is Human Toilet 1997. This is a self portrait photograph. She appears to be naked and is sitting on a toilet. She is holding the cistern in her hands.

Human Toilet 1997 C-print

The walls of the toilet are bare and the woman looks pale. She is averting her gaze looking down. This work seems to suggest that woman’s role in society is akin to that of a toilet. The implication is that women exist to serve the interests of  men however base these may be. Although the subject, Lucas,  is naked,  the image is not sexual. An alternative interpretation is that she is disgusted with herself. There is a second version of this photograph Human Toilet Revisited  in which she is sitting on a toilet smoking a cigarette. In this work she is wearing a tee shirt but with nothing covering her legs.

Human Toilet Revisited 1998

Here again she is averting her gaze with her eyes looking downwards. She has her knees bent and her feet on the toilet seat. The toilet seat is down. There is a narrow window with a rough wooded frame behind her. The reading for this second work could be taken as per the first except that in this second photograph she is less a part of the toilet – she is not holding the cistern. She seems to be comparing herself to a toilet, almost as if there is an element of self loathing. This could be associated with the smoking. Perhaps she considers that this habit relegates her to the status of a toilet. Both images are present depressing image of women. Perhaps this is how Lucas views the role of women in life and in art.

The final work  is ‘Self Portrait with a Mug of Tea’. This work is a collage of digital prints mounted on brown paper. Lucas sits with her legs wide. She is wearing blue jeans and a shirt. She is holding the mug of tea in her right hand and has a cigarette in her left. She is looking out beyond the viewer.

Self Portrait with Mug of Tea 1993

This quotation from an interview with Lucas sheds some light on her approach in this image ‘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’ (Lucas quoted in Barber, p.16). Her aim here is to confront the ‘normal’ cultural roles of men and women in society. She is not dressed up for the voyeuristic scopophilic delight of males. She looks like a man. She is not modestly averting her gaze and taking delight in being seen. Rather she is ignoring and looking beyond the viewer. Her pose, the mug and her cigarette also represent her manly pose and her confrontation with gender stereotyping.

Lynn Barber, ‘Drag Queen’, Observer Magazine, London, 30 January 2000, pp.10-16

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