Feminist icon: Tracey Emin

Feminist icon: Tracey Emin

Dear Tracey Emin,

Not many women have stood tall in modern art, but you’ve really gone and done it. You’re only the ninth artist ever to have had their own room in London’s prestigious Tate Gallery.

Rather than write you our usual letter, we’re just going to write out 10 facts about you we got from the Tracey Emin website so everyone can know how brave you are: (however, we are going to point out to people that you really, really love your cat).

1. Tracey Emin might not be the kind of artist your granny would like. Her autobiographical style of work is all about exposing the kind of things about herself that most people would be too ashamed to reveal.

2. Her confessional subjects include abortions, rape, self-neglect and promiscuity, sometimes expressed with the help of gloriously old-fashioned looking, hand-sewn applique letters. Her dad quite likes the sewing, because it reminds him of his own mum.

3. One of her installations, called Everyone I Have Ever Slept with 1963-1995 is a tent, into and onto which she has sewn all these people’s names.

4. Some see poetry in the titles of her work. They include: You Forgot to Kiss My Soul; Every Part of Me Is Bleeding; My Cunt is Wet With Fear; and I Need Art Like I Need God. There is no Still Life With Bowl of Apples, as far as we know.

5. Emin has been accused of cynically exploiting the public’s darkest levels of voyeurism.

6. But her honesty can be disarming. She once told Observer interviewer Lynn Barber that the first thing she did when she started making money was to buy medical insurance, because: “I’m sickly and I get run down and I have very bad herpes, and I like knowing that the doctor’s there.”

7. Emin’s first move into the public eye was opening a shop in London’s Bethnal Green called, er, The Shop, with fellow artist Sarah Lucas. Emin’s stock included letters she’d written and ashtrays with pictures of Damien Hurst’s face stuck to the bottom of them.

8. Emin was the inspiration – if that’s the right word – for a latter day art movement called Stuckism, which is devoted to advancing the cause of painting as the most vital means of addressing contemporary issues. The movement was founded by her ex-boyfriend Billy Childish, to whom she had once said: “Your paintings are stuck, you are stuck! Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!”

9. White Cube curator Jay Jopling spotted her in 1994 and the big time called. She came to wider public attention during a live Channel 4 Turner Prize debate in 1997. A very inebriated Emin mumbled incoherently that “no real people” would be watching and that she wanted to go be with her mum and friends.

10. Two years later, “Mad Tracey from Margate” (her words) was shortlisted for the Turner Prize for an installation entitled My Bed, a testimony to her self-neglect and over-indulgence. She didn’t win, but Charles Saatchi paid £150,000 for it.

Love, Mookychick xxx

Tracey Emin’s background:

More legends have probably arisen around Tracey Emin than any other Young British Artist from the 1990s. Readers and viewers were made privy to stillbirths, alcohol abuse and also drunken appearances on live TV. These stories of lust and pain were fed by Emin’s art, which was a merciless exploration of her own biography that was so direct as to be seen by some as exhibitionistic. A closer look at Tracey’s art reveals a poetic, precise, authentic world which makes you consider your own life and problems.

Emin’s art takes many different forms of expression including painting, drawing, video and installation, to photography, needlework and sculpture. As well as using new forms of art, like neon tube lighting, she uses old art in new ways. An appliqué piece attacks Margaret Thatcher’s decision to go to war in The Falklands. One message on the blanket reads: “How did you get away with it, I have always said you should be tried for crimes against humanity … 1982, a year so many conscripts did not go home – because you, you killed them all.

The ways in which Tracey Emin’s life experience reflects social experience is clearly seen in Everyone I have ever slept with from 1963 – 1995. The inside walls of a small tent were covered with cut-out letters spelling the names of all those who shared Tracey’s bed during that time period. These included early boyfriends and girlfriends, family members, her twin brother and subsequent lovers. Not to forget her own name: With myself always myself never forgetting. Intimate scenes were recalled, scenes of a kind almost everyone has experienced or will experience in a tent. The tent was also associated with prenatal security, the joys of teenage holidays and a nomadic restlessness and despairing drive.

Written words appear frequently in Emin’s art: sentimental embroideries, ‘handwritten’ neon tubes, notes on walls, drawings and paintings, even entire books. In Exploration of the soul 1994 Emin recorded her chequered life story from her conception to her loss of virginity in a piece which hovers between a frank confession and an aesthetic arrangement.

In 1995, Tracey Emin established the Tracey Emin Museum in London. In the private atomosphere of a rented flat on Waterloo Road she presented a great variety of works in surroundings combining gallery and personal apartment with a souvenir/clothing store, presenting an alternative to familiar modes of art presentation.

Tracey Emin’s art is a powerful form of communication that transcends rules to address the viewer dynamically and directly through personal confession.

by Raimar Stange for ‘Women Artists in the 20th and 21st century’

Best Tracey Emin Quotes:

“For me, being an artist isn’t just bout mkaing nice things or people patting you on your back; it’s some kind of communication, a message.”

Tracey Emin Links:


Tracey Emin on wikipedia