One of the pleasures of getting old,” says Sarah Lucas as she lights a rollup in Tate Britain’s garden, “is that a lot of your life is done and it’s not going to make that much of a bloody difference. That along with the bus pass is one of the few perks.” She throws back her hair and giggles endearingly over the sound of a bin lorry. The former Young British Artist recently got her 60-plus travel card, giving her free travel on bus, tube, local trains, even Croydon’s trams if she has a mind. “Only off-peak, though, I found to my cost,” she says. “Not that I’m complaining.”
This disdain for self-importance is no doubt liberating, though not perhaps what the Tate’s PR people want the 60-year-old to be telling the media as she promotes her career retrospective show Happy Gas. They’d probably prefer her to talk about some of the greatest hits with which she scandalised polite society and problematised the predatory male gaze at the outset of her career. The 1996 Self-Portrait with Fried Eggs, for instance, which depicted Lucas manspreading on a chair with two fried eggs on her chest, and a look at the camera that says: “Yeah. And?” Or one of her 1997 series of Bunny sculptures: headless figures made from stuffed tights draped over chairs in parodies of sexual availability and female abjection. Or Eating a Banana (1990) in which she faux-fellated fruit, meeting the viewer’s gaze while looking like a dead ringer for androgynous Suede frontman Brett Anderson.