In February of this year, artists Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin took over a six month lease on a former doctor's surgery in the East End of London. 103 Bethnal Green Road has since become 'Lucas & Emin', selling collaborative merchandise to the public. It was a beautiful spring morning when I dropped by to talk shop. Come Together, from the Beatles' Abbey Road was playing when I arrived - a subtle reminder that Sarah Lucas is simultaneously showing at the Saatchi Collection until the end of July.
Gregor Muir: What's your best seller?
Sarah Lucas: Ummm... The Rothko comfort blankets sell quite well, so do the little 'Rescue Me' labels and our best selling T-shirt is 'Complete Arsehole'. All the T-shirts are hand-painted and go up in price every time we sell one. They start off at £12, go up to £15 and then they go up in fivers until they get up to fifty pounds. What happens after that, we haven't decided. But 'Complete Arsehole' is now selling at £40.
Tracey Emin: And then the next expensive one is £35 and that's 'Fucking Useless'.
G.M. Last time I was in, the Damien Hirst ashtrays were doing well.
S.L. When we first opened there was a sudden run on them. It was a good seller for a couple of weeks but there hasn't been a lot of interest lately. I don't know why.
G.M. Why choose a photograph of Damien Hirst?
S.L. Well, we had an ashtray full of butts and I said to Tracey; 'Oh look, a Damien Hirst'.
G.M. So how does it suit you working shop hours?
T.E. This is important actually, we're open on Tuesday from 1pm - 6pm, Wednesday to Friday from 11am - 6pm, and then we work from 11am on Saturday to 4pm Sunday afternoon. So we do keep regular hours.
S.L. The thing is that during those hours, we're open. That's the main difference between having a shop and having a studio. Anyone can come and visit us.
G.M. Who makes the merchandise?
S.L. It's made between the two of us. Some of it is more collaborative than others but basically there's a lot of things to get on with and it depends on what's most pressing at the time. We might need to do some decorating, make some more merchandise or get on with our own work.
G.M. Do people come into the shop quite by chance?
T.E. Tons of people. All kinds of people.
S.L. But mostly because they can't work out what it is.
G.M. Do they look bemused at what's going on here?
S.L. Sometimes they do, but less than you'd really expect. I'm always amazed at how, supposedly, people aren't interested in art, but it's like a magnet! They are interested in it. They only dislike it if they're having it rammed down their throat as art.
G.M. But this, they don't have a problem with?
S.L. Not so much of a problem. People will come in and earmark something that they see in the shop which they think is a really good idea.
G.M. So some of these ideas could go out into the wider public?
T.E. Well, they are, aren't they?
G.M. Is any of this about the idea of being a professional artist?
S.L. What's a professional artist?
G.M. Someone who makes a living by selling their art.
S.L. Actually, the whole idea that there could possibly be such a thing as a professional artist, in those terms, is just anathema to me. What we're doing here is more like Reggie Perrin really. We can just get on with a lot of work which might seem trivial within a studio context. When you go into the studio sometimes, you beaver away, thinking this is not as good as that last one, that kind of business. Opening up a shop can alleviate that. The actual fact that we might make some beer money is nice, but kind of irrelevant.
G.M. Would you take other people's work into the shop?
S.L. We've got a policy that we don't, but if we fancy something, then we might consider it. That T-Shirt in the window, 'This Country Needs A Leader', is somebody else's.
G.M. Could you take this anywhere else? Could you set up this shop in a gallery? How would that work?
S.L. The whole idea of this is for it to be a shop and we might think of something better to do if we were in a gallery environment. Like nothing, or playing cards...
T.E. ...or reading a bit.
G.M. You've had offers?
T.E. Yes, to run a shop somewhere else for six weeks.
S.L. But six weeks isn't long enough to start from scratch. I suppose you could move all this stuff into a gallery, but it would need a lot of curating. We just did it. They're two different things. If we went to a gallery, we'd live there.
T.E. Especially if it had big windows. We could have big curtains.
G.M. So what will you do after this?
T.E. Well, Sarah's going to Oxford to be near intelligent people and I'm going to get a P.O. Box, hang around Heathrow airport and find the International Man.