Sarah Lucas's joint show with her partner Angus Fairhurst gives them both, she thinks, the freedom to mess up. But this same liberation, says Suzanne Moore, helps produce some of their most interesting work. Portrait by Liam Duke
s you might expect, there were some old toilets in Sarah Lucas's studio. One is completely covered in cigarettes. But there upon the walls are some surprisingly lyrical and tender images. These are the work of the artist Angus Fairhurst who shares the studio and is Lucas's boyfriend. The toilets are part of her next New York show. In the meantime, Fairhurst and Lucas are showing together what they call Odd-Bod Photography.

The show will consist of photographs by both of them. Some of these images have been shown before but not in Britain. They describe it as lots of things that have "just slipped through the net".

Both artists have used photography but are continuing to work in other media. Fairhurst's next show, also in America, will include photography, painting and animation. Lucas is already working on more toilets and burnt- out cars. They got the idea for this show when they saw his images lying next to hers in the studio and they want to maintain this casual feeling even when the work is shown in a gallery.

This is something they both talk of as liberating. "Part of it," says Lucas, "is to take some space, to circumnavigate the whole art-market thing. It is allowing yourself to mess up, giving yourself the freedom to be crap. But, inevitably, the standards start to go up once you put it all together."

Looking at their work in this way begs many questions about artistic collaboration. The photographs of Fairhurst, some taken by Lucas, are definitely his work. The portraits of Lucas, sometimes taken by him, are definitely hers. What they have realised in the process is that many of their friends, that whole group known as Young British Artists, already collaborate in a practical sense, anyway, but they are just drawing attention to it.

Those familiar with Lucas's work will not be surprised by her confrontational self-portraits. Fairhurst's work, on the other hand, is, she says, "more self-effacing. He isn't like me. He's more thoughtful and quiet. I'm slapdash, whereas he is patient and particular."

Certainly the contrast between their two styles is made more vivid when the work is viewed together. Fairhurst's images are, on the surface at least, surprisingly lyrical compared with Lucas's in-your-face style.

An Effortless Patch, images of himself in a suit surrounded by flowers, may look soft but he deliberately jars the idealisation of nature by dressing in a suit. He has already done a series of himself in which he was naked in the city. One of the most striking works is Fairhurst's Pieta where he's being held by a huge stuffed gorilla suit.

Fairhurst has been using gorilla suits for some time. "I started using the gorilla as a kind of everyman. I had used it in my work, A Cheap And Ill-Fitting Gorilla Suit. It was a bit tawdry, this huge chunky suit. I showed myself getting out of it. Underneath this big hairy masculine thing, there I was in the end, a skinny lanky geezer. Pieta is an image of tenderness, about the struggle between the alter-ego - the gorilla - and the self and, of course, the mother."

It is tempting to see in their combined imagery a continual questioning of prescribed gender roles. Though neither is keen to talk about it, Fairhurst says: "Sarah has an idea what it is to be a woman as I have what it is to be a man. I suppose, in some ways, we are playing about, but earlier on, it could have been anyone in my photographs. It didn't have to be me."

Lucas's work, though, has such a strong sense of self-determined identity and immediacy it would be difficult, surely, for her to use anyone else. "Anyway," she laughs, "so many of my friends are now well-known, if I used them, it would change the whole meaning."

Such work arising, as they claim, out of practical collaboration will invariably invite the criticism that one or other of them is riding on the other's shirt tails. It is Lucas who is the better-known artist. She acknowledges this. "All artists have big egos. If one of our group has a really good show, you get that feeling of fear. But, anyway, you can't read a single article about one of us without them always referring to Damien Hirst. Sure, it got on my nerves. Now, I just think in terms of the public consciousness outside of the art world. Damien has given people a way in."

Both of them are aware of trying not to censor themselves and trying to use this joint show to do something that is not necessarily considered acceptable. "We are very aware that anyone could do this. You could have several combinations, it doesn't have be boyfriend and girlfriend."

As Lucas inevitably lights up another cigarette, I wonder about how much they have influenced each other, how much they disagree and are able to tell each other. How they maintain their separate identities. Lucas describes her burnt-out lungs. I ask Fairhurst if he smokes. "I think smoking is great," he smiles. "But I don't. It just doesn't suit me."

And I figure that, however this show is received, Sarah Lucas, already famous for being her own woman, has found in Angus Fairhurst a collaborator who is quietly getting on with being his own man

"Odd-Bod Photography", by Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst, is at Sadie Coles HQ, 35 Heddon Street, London W1, from 16 April