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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin’s Exhibition – "Love Is What You Want," 2011, London's Hayward Gallery
Tracey Emin with her friend, Docket.
Even if you like conceptual art, Tracey Emin is hard to take. That's especially so, if you don't. For instance, London's Stuckists are not fond of either her or her art, even though she's reputed to have given their non-movement its name. The Tate Gallery in London likes her, though, which means the conservative Stuckists don't much care for the Tate, either. Tracey is considered a member of the Young British Artists movement (YBA), sort of a left wing as applied to the London art world.

For Tracey Emin, art is totally personal. Virtually all of her installations, her sculptures, her obscenely nude drawings, her neon light quotations, are autobiographical. She displays her bed; she proclaims her sexual relationships (in a tent, no less), she sketches herself spread-eagle nude naked; she quotes herself in neon. Her large-scale applique texts on blankets (above) are virtual autobiographies. Just about the only form of art she has created which is not about Tracey Emin are her paintings from her student days at the Royal College of Art, most of which she has destroyed. Egotistical? Perhaps. Certainly an egoist. However, if artists are at their best when they create what they know best, then Tracey Emin has been at her best for some thirty years.

My Bed, 1999, Tracey Emin--airing her dirty linens and laundry.
Friendship, 1987, Tracey Emin, from her
university days when she created with a
brush rather than a needle.
Tracey Emin was born in the Croydon section of South London, though she was raised in Margate the far easternmost suburb of the city along the coast. Born in 1963, her mother was a domestic, her father owned a hotel along with his wife, who was not Tracey's mother. When the hotel went broke, so did his family--both of them. Tracey was raped at the age of thirteen. All of these early struggles from her youth are blatantly reflected in her work. She went on to study fashion at Medway, printing at Maidstone, Philosophy at Birkbeck, and finally painting a the Royal College of Art where she obtained a M.A. It was at Medway where she took up with Stuckist co-founder Billy Childish. They lived together for several years until 1999 when Tracey's My Bed (above) was chosen as a finalist in the Turner Prize Competition. She didn't win the prize but the controversy arising from her unmade bed far overshadowed the video art of Steve McQueen, who did.

Every Part of Me's Bleeding, 1999, Tracey Emin, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.
I Do Not Expect to Be a Mother,
1999, Tracey Emin--blanket graffiti
Much of Tracey Emin's art today involves letters forming words sewn on blankets. In the finest post-modern tradition of Jeff Koons, she hires others to do the actual sewing. In summing up her work, Tracey Emin might be considered sort of a slutty version of America's Jenny Holzer, though her words are far more personal and spelling is not her strong suit. When not proclaiming her past using fabric, Tracey "enlightens" us to her personal life using bright neon tubes made (by others) to replicate her own, highly stylized handwriting. Emin's more recent work involves self-portraiture, though far from anything ever visualized by experts from the past such as Rembrandt of van Gogh. Hers are highly expressive brush and ink drawings not unlike images scratched on the walls of toilet cubicles in the men's room of the grimiest bars in London (but about twenty times larger). Such images (those not so obscene as to be unseemly in this venue) can be seen in her show, "She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea" (below) at the Turner Contemporary located in her  old hometown of Margate.

"She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea," 2012, Tracey Emin, Turner Margate show.
The "floor show" seems to suggest a sculptural version of her wall art.

Meet Tracey Emin:


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