Sarah Lucas and Francis Upritchard

31Jul12

Sarah Lucas. Self-Portraits 1990 1998 (1999)

Sarah Lucas. Self-Portraits 1990 1998 (1999) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Zealand - Save Yourself 9

New Zealand – Save Yourself 9 (Photo credit: oddtag)

An insightful post from Lesley Guy

Seeing the range of Sarah Lucas’ work together for the first time (at the Henry Moore Institute Leeds) has helped me to appreciate its warmth, and character. It is rude and ridiculous and these qualities are sometimes misunderstood and underated.  Yet despite my sympathy, I felt unsatisfied by the show. Nothing has really stayed with me.

The current show by Francis Upritchard at Nottingham Contemporary had a much different effect. A Hand of Cards is underpinned by a feeling of artistic anxiety. I can sense it in the conflict between her criticism of the hippy project that she was brought up within and her celebration of the craft associated with the Utopian vision. Her counter-intuitive approach, the way she works with concepts and forms that she is uneasy with, keeps that element of anxiety alive and challenges the securities of a practice and its interpretation.

The figures in the first gallery hold the strange pose of a war-dance; each figure is distinct, slightly out of sync with the rest. Some are contorted in expressions of agony, or is it ecstasy? I can see Bruegel, not just in the awkward figures with their medieval expressions and clothing, but in the desire to confound the viewer with visual contradictions and incongruities. The faces, with their squinting eyes, prevent us from reading any humanity in them, rendering them as objects, but objects that seem to have secrets.

The artist has asserted that they are not to be read as puppets or dolls that contain notions of animus or spirit, but their charisma is hard to ignore. I see figures on the edge of life, like new born babies, or old, frail people. They possess an introverted consciousness that alienates us from them. And materially too, they are imbued with wrong-ness. The helmets they wear are made from the same material that their bodies are fashioned from, and are the same colour, with flecks of yellow standing out against the fleshy tones.

In the second gallery there is colour in gaudy, tie-dyed abundance. This is painted over the beer-mugs, the mystics and the UFO gazers. A Harlequin patterned figure reminds me of something Picasso is meant to have said, that armies ought to adopt this diamond check pattern. Apparently it is the best form of camouflage. It is also completely absurd, or is it? The Harlequin stands for carnival, but he could easily refer to war, for it too is a form of excess and a way to achieve self-obliteration, as the figures in the first room show.

There is wit in Sarah Lucas’ work, how could I not smile at Nob Tree, a tree stump wrapped with mod-roc to exaggerate its phallic shape? More ambiguous though is Pritchard’s use of the male member to signify an arrow, perhaps ready to be fired by a yellow skinned male figure. He has his arms raised as if holding a bow and arrow, his penis pointing in that direction. This is a much cooler wit. With Lucas one gets the sense that she sees images of sex and sexuality everywhere, and the joy and honesty with which she embraces the physicality and materiality of it is refreshing. Pritchard takes me on a journey that passes through centuries of ideas, feelings and contradictions and brings me back to myself, questioning my own personal project. Lucas’ stuffed tights and found phalluses just don’t do this to me.

Many thanks to Zoe Pilger for her insightful talk at Nottingham Contemporary on Saturday.

Words and Pictures

Seeing the range of Sarah Lucas’ work together for the first time (at the Henry Moore Institute Leeds) has helped me to appreciate its warmth, and character. It is rude and ridiculous and these qualities are sometimes misunderstood and underated.  Yet despite my sympathy, I felt unsatisfied by the show. Nothing has really stayed with me.

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