Tracey Emin

Tracy Emin

She was born in Croydon in 1963. By 1997, she was a well-known and contoversial artist and defining representative of the ‘Young British artists’.

Her work is dominated by ideas of self-portraiture, and incorporates biography and autobiography.

She has worked in many fields and applications, including drawing, painting, writing, photography, printmaking, sculpture, applique, poetry, neon works, film, video, performance and installation.

She has eschewed the trend in contempory art for the parodic, ironic and intellectually rhetorical, to focus on the theme of sincerity in art, for the display of feelings and emotions. In this she has similarities with the motivations of Louise Bourgeois, and has been similarly labelled as a “confessional artist”.

In the early 1990s Emin suffered a period of significant depression during which time she lost all self-belief and faith and destroyed her work. The impact of this period upon her work has been profound and she has been quoted as saying, in relation to her recovery that she ‘realised if I was to make art, it couldn’t be about a fucking picture…it had to be about where it was really coming from.’ (Neal Brown 2006:12).

Emin was brought up in Margate, She had a working-class upbringing, and her family structure was unusal, since she and her twin brothers were raised by her mother Pam Cashin, and her father Envin Emin, who had fathered the children during an extra-marital affair, following which he divided his time between his two families. He was a Cypriot who came to the UK in 1948, without any education. He suffered with addiction to gambling and alcohol. Tracey and her mother and brother lived in a number of places, following their itinerate father, who moved them for a short time to Turkey. They were financially poorly resourced and suffered racial ostracisation. She missed a lot of schooling due to illness, and truanting and finally left at thirteen.

As a young girl she suffered exploitation and sexual abuse and was raped at thirteen. These experiences have clearly had a major influence upon the nature and direction of her work. She is very clear about how her background has affected her, particularly in her feelings of ostracisation and being unaccepted when she attended Maidstone Art College and The Royal College of Art. She has said about how her background affected her: “Lots.The fact that I’m not Anglo-Saxon, I’m half Cypriot. The fact that my Dad came here in 1948. The fact that my father never went to school. The fact that I’m the first woman in my family to have an education. The fact tha I’m the first woman in my family to have a degree. The fact that I left school at thirteen. The fact that I went to a secondary modern school. The fact that I haven’t got a rounded British accent. The fact that I’m not middle class. The fact that I had to work really hard to get through things.” (Brown, N 2001:15).

Tracey Emin is well-known for her small monoprints, which cover a number of themes, both autobiographical and describing nature. She exhibited a series of eight monoprints of birds in 1993, tender, beautiful in their simplicity and optimistic in their impact. They contrast strongly with her more personal depictions which often depict complex emotional states, sometimes positive but often highly self-critical and self-depracatory.

A series of appliqued quilts, using fabrics saved from childhood and other milestone events in her life, have stimulated interest and debate about the role of women, female artists, the explicit nature of her text incorporated in the works.

Emin acknowledges that the work of Egon Schiele has influenced her, and he was, in turn, influenced by Vincent Van Gogh. Neal Brown (2006) argues that her work is defined by ‘poeticised truth, arrived at through the vehicle of mediated autobiographical truth’. Brown goes on to draw parrallels with the “confessional Poets” such as Walt Whitman, Anne Sexton, Stevie Smith and Sylvia Plath.

Egon Schiele dwelt on considerations of eroticism and childhood sexuality to a moral extreme, using vulnerable models, often children. Emin’s work frequently covers the same concerns but is unashamedly self-revalatory in as much as she uses herself and her own life as the vehicle and model of her enquiries.

In 2010, Turner Contempory , Margate, commissioned Emin to make a neon work for the facade of a small building close to the gallery, Droit House. She created a pink neon text in her own handwriting I Never stopped Loving You, a declaration of her affection for her home town.

In 2012 the Turner Contempory brought together an impressive body of Emin’s work, which was exhibited alongside a small number of works by J W Turner and Auguste Rodin, in an exhibition titled She Lay Down Beneath the Deep Blue Sea. William Feaver wrote in the exhibition catalogue, ‘Art reflects art and one of the delights of the new is that it brings with it fresh takes on the old. There’s always pressure to achieve something unprecedented but then, surprise over, the past reasserts itself and every achievement falls into line.’ (Feaver 2012)

This consideration was brought into even sharper focus in the astonishing exhibition The Last Great Adventure is You, at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsley in 2014. Guardian art critic, Johnathan Jones wrote about her previously unrevealed talent in drawing. “Drawing is a cruel art… it imposes rules, traditions and standards that an artist cannot simply ignore.” He goes on to argue that Tracey Emin proves though her beautiful and evocative drawings of the female nude, that she is indeed an artist that can draw and draw powerfully and with great emotion and at times raw pain and despair.

He describes her as an expressionist. He remarks that just as Michal angelo knew that the human figure is as expressive as the human face, so does Emin.

He hails her as “the most important British artist of her generation”.


Brown, Neal. (2006) Tracey Emin. London:Tate Publishing

Feaver, W. (2012) Tracey Emin: She Lay Down Beneath the Deep Blue Sea. Margate: Turner Contempory 26th May – 23rd September 2012

Jones, Jonathan (2014) ‘Tracey Emin: The Last Great Adventure is You review – a lesson in how to be a real artist.’In The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 5/09/2015)

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