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Artist Spotlight: Tracey Emin

Thanks to the generosity of Mandy Zhang Art, we are delighted to be offering a Tracey Emin print as part of our exhibition and silent auction. Our next Artist Spotlight feature focuses on Emin who, as an integral part of the Young British Artist movement, redefined notions of contemporary art in 1990s Britain. A special thank you to White Cube for providing the research for this feature.

Tracey Emin via Aware Magazine. Creator: Mark Bourdillon / Alamy Stock Photo  |  Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Tracey Emin via Aware Magazine. Creator: Mark Bourdillon / Alamy Stock Photo | Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Tracey Emin’s expressive and visceral art is one of disclosure, dealing with personal experience and heightened states of emotion. Frank and intimate but universal in its relevance, her work draws on the fundamental themes of love, desire, loss and grief, unravelling in the process the nuanced constructs of ‘woman’ and ‘self’ through probing self-exploration. ‘The most beautiful thing is honesty, even if it’s really painful to look at’, she has remarked.

Wide-ranging in scope, Emin’s practice includes painting, drawing, film, photography, sewn appliqué, sculpture and neon, all of which are transformed into highly personalised mediums for her singular voice. The genres of self-portraiture and the nude run throughout, both intricately bound up with the emotional journey of her life and the travails of her own biography. In her early work, often characterised by unflinching personal revelation, Emin makes reference to her family, childhood, and chaotic teenage years growing up in the seaside town of Margate. Her relationships, pregnancies and abortions are recounted through drawings, photographs, found objects and videos in a manner that is neither tragic nor sentimental and which resonates deeply with the audience.

In her well-known sculpture Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963−95 (1995, destroyed 2004) for example, the names of all those she had shared a bed with – friends, lovers and family – are sewn onto the inside of a tent; a candid log of her emotional past. A similarly honest approach inflects her videos which document, through first-person narratives, a landscape of emotional states ranging from desire or elation to depression and despair. Likewise, her intricate, colourful, hand-appliquéd blankets combine scraps of different material to spell out hard-hitting statements. Titled with phrases such as Mad Tracey from Margate. Everyone’s been there, (1997) or Helter Fucking Skelter (2001), they collectively re-imagine the artist as a splintered persona, portrayed not just from her own perspective but from that of those around her too. Mining her own life for subject-matter, Emin determined that for her, art had to be intrinsically bound up with an inner life: ‘the essence of creativity, that moment of conception... the whole being of everything... it had to be about where it was really coming from,’ she has said.

Tracey Emin, "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, 1963-1995", 1993-2004. Creator: Johnnie Shand Kydd Copyright: Artwork © Tracey Emin. Photo © Johnnie Shand Kydd.

The print donated by Mandy Zhang is a beautiful representation of these artistic narratives that are so consistent and complicated in Emin's oeuvre. 'Insane Reflection' is a screen print on cotton that features a fabric flower attached, with its stem made up of a hand-stitched line. Although hard to identify detail, it is clear the female figure is holding a round shape whilst looking towards another round object. Emin has described this particular scene as one of ‘my endless imagining new life, faced with the question of how that might ever be.’ Given Emin's ongoing consideration of themes surrounding personal experience to do with sexuality and ultimately motherhood, we consider this work to be a quiet and contemplative negotiation with these roles, goals, and notions of identity.

Tracey Emin, "Insane Reflection", 2006.
Tracey Emin, "Insane Reflection", 2006

The “reflection", which is linked to the duality of the round, pregnant form gazing at a reproduced object that is clearly imagined or theorised, also signfies thinking about one’s own future surrounding motherhood and whether it is to be or not. We are automatically asked to consider the cultural implications of such debates and how they impact what is a private and nuanced decision process. The mention of "insane" references the assumptions and societal pressures on women dealing with these issues and acknowledges the often unjust treatment of hysteria as an inferior female trait. The cotton and hand stitched thread to include the symbolism in the flower are all nods to maternity. The ownership over the body, what we are pressured to do or not, and how hard it can be to know ourselves and be connected with what our body does are additionally themes that run through the work of several of our other artists, creating an exciting and fascinating discourse at the heart of our exhibition. Tracey Emin was born in 1963 in London. She currently lives and works between London, the South of France, and Margate, UK.

Be sure to follow us on social media and regularly check our website for more information about the talented artists and team members heralding this initiative. Bidding on these works will go live in early May, so keep an eye out for additional announcements. For all press enquiries, including further information on Artscope and Artscope: Aid, please email



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