[March 30 2020]
“Honey Pie” opened at Sadie Coles in London just as the city shut down. In the show, Sarah Lucas presents a mix of her soft Bunny sculptures fashioned from an eclectic selection of clothing and chairs, and a set of contrasting hard pieces in bronze and concrete, all separated into four chambers by partition walls. Due to social distancing measures, we abandoned our plans for a walk-and-talk tour of the show and Sarah kindly responded to these questions by email.
JETHRO TURNER: How are you doing in the current context? Are you currently able to work in your studio?
SARAH LUCAS: To tell the truth I’ve never been very studio-ish. I mostly work from or on the hop – I often take time to make a certain amount of work in the country where the exhibition will be.
Having said that, since last June I have had a studio in the local town. I took it temporarily as I needed a bit more space and as I get older I’m finding myself a bit less keen on cluttering up the house. So the Honey Pie works were all made there. Actually, the building that the studio is in was bought by some friends of mine who wanted to let it short term before they started renovations. I was supposed to do this show in January but I needed more time. From January the builders moved in to everywhere but my room. It was comic really, me and the girly sculptures and a bunch of blokes ripping the entrails out of the place around us. Anyway, to answer your question, no, I’m not able to use my studio right now, I had to move over. It’s now a building site. I plan to move back in though when it’s finished. Of course they’ve had to put down tools now who knows for how long.
JETHRO TURNER: After a series of pretty major institutional shows, I think this show at Sadie Coles HQ and your show at Gladstone 64 in New York are your first back in gallery settings for a while – what have you brought with you from the experiences of creating those bigger global shows to these? And what have you discarded?
SARAH LUCAS: They are my first gallery shows in New York and London for some years. I have shown elsewhere and did make some new works for the big retrospectives.
It’s a difficult question as all shows are different anyway. I would say the use of pedestals has it roots in bigger, museum shows. This is not just a matter of space but also of their rules and regulations in regard to the general public keeping their distance. I used to resent it very much having to put works on a plinth that weren’t designed to be on one. Then I found myself quite excited about the prospect of making that a part of the work. Sort of breaking my own rule. And as an opportunity to add another element of colour. Using such bold, painted on colour is quite new to my practise. Mostly I’ve gone along with whatever natural colour a material has. Another thing that has developed while working in museums is the block and concrete sheet freestanding walls. I’ve never been a fan of making box rooms out of big galleries. The freestanding walls enable me to divide the space and at the same time keep it open. And concrete is a theme of course.
JETHRO TURNER: Why did the name ‘HONEY PIE’ jump out to you both for the piece, and as the title of the show?
SARAH LUCAS: When I started in the studio I was listening to a lot of Yoko Ono. Something about her straightforwardness in what she is saying coupled with her innovative style of music-making feels, decades (dick ‘eads) later, just as fresh and exciting as it did then. She has been very underrated, I think. I wanted to achieve something like the same tone. She was the muse. I’ve always loved the Beatles. As summer turned to winter I found myself a bit more melancholy. The days being short and the lighting inadequate contributed to the moody feeling. I started listening again to the White Album. Always very stirring of the emotions and memories. I couldn’t help wondering if Yoko is HONEY PIE. Certainly the influences are to some extent a two way street.
JETHRO TURNER: I was on the underground after seeing the show, and a girl was sitting next to me, and she was totally transfixed by the ‘HONEY PIE’ image on the booklet I was holding. I’m not sure if she knew your work, but there was something in her gaze, that suggests even if she hadn’t seen it before, that she was connecting with something that already existed inside her. As these bunny forms and the contexts in which they are shown have evolved, what has changed in how people – especially women – react to these sculptures?
SARAH LUCAS: That’s very nicely put. That would be my aim, if I’d stated it, when making these objects, that they can make a direct connection to people on an emotional level. Or, what Francis Bacon would have termed the ‘nervous system’. When I first started making things I loved carrying them down the street. This happened a lot in those days, as there was no money for art shippers or people to invigilate exhibitions. A lot of contact with random people. It’s very gratifying and affirming when work works on all kinds of people. When it has inner power.
JETHRO TURNER: Alongside the breeze blocks, the accompanying plinths have become really major parts of the works now – do you think about them at the same time as you’re working on the sculptures? How do you select the shapes and colours?
SARAH LUCAS: People often ask me what comes first. I don’t have a rule about it. Sometime it’s an idea or a key phrase. Often a particular chair, a pair of shoes or a colour. As they evolve some of the elements are exchanged for others. I suppose the plinths come last, but an idea of them is present throughout. I try the sculptures out at different heights on various old tables and boxes I have knocking around. I try to guess what a bunch of them might need to do in relation to each other in a room. Seeing is believing though.
JETHRO TURNER: In one of my favourites, ‘ELF WARRIOR’, the sculpture appears to be both budding/birthing itself (like a true hermaphrodite) and delving into its own insides, which – forgive me – seems like a nice allegory for a lot of your work. Can you tell me a bit about making this piece?
SARAH LUCAS: Some of the sculptures are portraits. They don’t usually set out to be, it’s just that while I’m making one it starts to remind me of someone I know. I think all our friends and people we know are muses. What we think about other people and what we think they think are aspects of ourselves. ELF WARRIOR is a portrait of my friend Olivier Garbay. The name meaning of Olivier is Elf Warrior.
They are all self-portraits as well.
Text and Photo Jethro Turner