“My work is always about me.”
The Telegraph newspaper’s art critic Richard Dorment said in his review of Tracy Emin’s 2011 exhibition Love is What You Want, “the curators have grouped most of Emin’s neon signs together on the long wall of a darkened gallery, their garish lettering made to look like shop signs on the sleazy side of town. The installation is so effective that it is easy to forget that, seen on its own, a pink neon heart surrounding Emin’s handwritten message in blue neon saying “Love Is What You Want” has no artistic merit at all.”
With a body of work that encompasses nearly all aspects of the visual arts from painting to the neon’s, from prints to found object installations, from drawing to photography, from sculpture to film, Emin has shared her life, warts and all, in the best British tabloid tradition. From her abortions to her alcoholism, from her inability to find love to her sexual abuse as a teenager, all has been writ large in her work and the media.
Emin came to the public’s notice in 1977 when she appeared on a television art arts program discussing the Turner Prize drunk. She slurred her words, swore and walked out stating "Are they really real people in England watching this programme now, they really watching, really watching it?... They're 25 minutes behind us, think about that... I'm leaving now, I wanna be with my friends, I wanna be with my mum. I'm gonna phone her, and she's going to be embarrassed about this conversation, this is live and I don't care. I don't give a fuck about it."
Emin’s notoriety was confirmed two years later when her installation My Bed was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. A recreation of her bed from a time when she was feeling suicidal, the yellow stained sheets is decorated with condoms, empty cigarette packets and a pair of knickers with menstrual stains. The British press had a field day over its apparent triviality and the possible un-hygienic aspects of the installation.
These were followed by series of sexually provocative works all of which displayed aspects of herself as the subject matter. About which she has said “Being an artist isn't just about making nice things, or people patting you on the back; it's some kind of communication, a message.”
Now in her 50’s with three honorary doctorates to her name, a CBE and as Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy Emin is becoming part of the establishment against which she railed as a YBAs (Young British Artists).
As the Telegraphs Chris Harvey reports, “She balks at any questions that include the words Young British Artists, though. “It was 20 years ago. It’s like talking to someone who was in a band and then had a really good solo career. And then you ask them what it was like being in the band. I’m not looking to regroup and do a tour with the band. I’m not interested. I like my own little solo gigs.”
Meanwhile Emin’s 1999 installation My Bed is currently on show at Tate Britian until June next year.