Tracey Emin

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Tracey Emin (born 1963) is an English artist, one of the so-called Young British Artists (YBAs). She is probably only second to Damien Hirst among the YBAs in terms of notoriety among the general public. In particular, her piece My Bed, part of 1999's Turner Prize exhibition, and consisted of her own unmade bed complete with used condoms and blood-stained underwear, brought her a great deal of attention from the press.

Emin was born in London, but brought up in Margate. She has a twin brother Paul. Emin's father was married to a woman other than her mother and while still young he abandoned the family which lead to a decline in their standard of living, an event which has featured in a number of works. Around the age of 14 she was raped. She initially studied art in Maidstone which she has described as one of the best experiences of her life where she was greatly influenced by Billy Childish, then returned to London to study at the Royal College of Art, where she obtianed an MA in painting. She was initially influenced by Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele, though later destroyed all her paintings from this early period. Later still, she studied philosophy at Birkbeck.

In 1993 Emin opened a shop called simply The Shop in Bethnal Green with fellow artist Sarah Lucas. This sold works by the two of them, including t-shirts and ash trays with Damien Hirst's picture stuck to the bottom. Lucas paid Emin a wage to mind the shop and she also made extra money by agreeing to write letters to people one of which was Jay Jopling who became her dealer. During this period Emin was also working with the gallerist Joshua Compston.

In 1994 she had her first solo show at the White Cube gallery, one of the most significant galleries in London. It was called My Major Retrospective, and was typically autobiographical, consisting of personal photographs, and photos of her now- destroyed early paintings as well as items which most artists would not consider showing in public, such as a packet of cigarettes her uncle was holding when decapitated in a car crash. This willingness to show details of what would generally be thought of as her private life has become one of Emin's trademarks. In 1995 her piece "Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-95' was included in the group exhibition Minky Manky at the South London Gallery organised by her then boyfriend Carl Friedman.

Although these early events caused Emin to be well known in art circles, she was largely unknown by the public until she appeared on a Channel 4 television program in 1997. It was an ostensibly serious debate show, and Emin was completely drunk (partly as a consequence of the painkillers she was taking for a broken finger), repeatedly saying that she wanted to go home to her mum.

Two years later, in 1999, Emin was shortlisted for the Turner Prize and exhibited My Bed at the Tate Gallery.

Such insights into Emin's personal life were nothing new. Indeed Emin's art is frequently autobiographical. One of her best known works, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95, was a tent with the names of everyone she has slept with sewn onto it. These included sexual partners, plus relatives she slept with as a child, her twin brother, and her two aborted children. Although often talked about as a shameless exhibition of her sexual conquests, it was rather a piece about intimacy in a more general sense. The needlework central to this work was used by Emin in a number of her other pieces.

Another autobiographical work is the film CV Cunt Vernacular (1997). This is essentially a biography, with Emin narrating her story from her childhood in Margate, through her student years, her abortions and destruction of her early works, as well as her later, more successful, work. A later film, Top Spot (2004), named after a youth centre in Margate, draws heavily on her teenage experiences. It was given an 18 certificate by the British Board of Film Censors owing to the graphic nature of a scene in which a teenage girl comits suicide. Emin responded by withdrawing the film from general distribution, though it has since been broadcast by the BBC.

Emin has also worked with neon lights. One such piece is You Forgot To Kiss My Soul which consists of those words in neon inside a neon heart-shape.

Emin's relationship with the artist and musician Billy Childish gave rise to the Stuckism movement. Childish, who is devoted to painting in a style reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh, was told by Emin, "Your paintings are stuck, you are stuck! Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!" (that is, stuck in the past), and the name adhered.

On 24 May, 2004, a fire in a storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection, including Everyone I have ever slept with 1963-95, The Last Thing I Said Is Don't Leave Me Here and The Hut.

Critics have argued that the personal nature of Emin's work is undermined by her employing a studio of assistants to produce the pieces. In 2002 Emin attracted further critics when she was commissioned to collaborate with children on a tapestry for a primary school in North London. After the project the school enquired if Emin would sign the piece so that the school could sell the tapestry as an original work to raise funds. Emin refused and demanded the return of the tapestry even though her authorship of the piece was disputed.

Emin is a professor of confessional art at the European Graduate School.

External links

es:Tracey Emin


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