As part of Creative Corner, every week SEREN will look at the life of a famous artist. This week we turn to Tracey Emin.
Emin was born a twin on 3rd July 1963, in Croydon, London.
She grew up in Margate, where her father owned the town’s Hotel International. When the business failed, the family suffered a severe decline in their standard of living. This harsh upbringing, including her rape at the age of 13, and abortion at 18, would later become an influence on her artwork, which is usually autobiographical and confessional.
Emin studied fashion at the Medway College of Design from 1980-82, and then printing at Maidstone College of Art, which she described as one of the best experiences of her life.
Her studies led to her taking an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art, which Emin has said she despised. She later destroyed many of her works from this era.
On completion of her MA, Emin opened a shop with fellow artist Sarah Lucas, and began to write letters asking people to invest £20 in her as an artist. The same year, her first exhibition ‘My Major Retrospective’ was opened, featuring works in her now signature autobiographical style. These included personal photographs, and a packet of cigarettes her uncle was holding as he was killed in a car accident.
During the 90’s, Emin began a relationship with Carl Freedman. The beach hut they shared in Wintstable was bought by Emin, which was then uprooted, and placed in an art gallery as part of her exhibition.
In 1995 Emin also created what would become one of her most iconic pieces – ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’. The work was a tent, embroidered with the names of everyone – from sexual partners, to relatives – that Emin had ever slept with. While some critics saw it as a ‘shameless exhibition of her sexual conquests’, others saw it as a statement of intimacy. The piece was later destroyed in the Momart Storage Fire of 2004.
By this point, Emin was becoming well known in art circles, however it was only after an appearance on a Turner Prize debate on Channel 4, in which Emin appeared drunk, that she came to the wider public’s attention.
In 1999 Emin created her most famous piece – the installation ‘My Bed’. It was Emin’s physical bed, complete with used tampons, stained sheets, and other objects such as books, used as an exhibition. Emin’s idea was to capture one of the lowest periods of her life, in a poignant and graphic manner. The work was nominated for the 1999 Turner Prize.
Emin’s work takes many forms, including monoprints, sculpture, installations, photographs, neon lights, fabric, and pencil and paint. She has many celebrity fans, including Elton John, George Michael, Orlando Bloom, and Naomi Campbell.
In 2007 she was made Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, joining an elite group of artists including David Hockney and Peter Blake.
2008 saw Emin opening her first major retrospective exhibition, held in Edinburgh’s Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The exhibition broke their attendance records, with over 40,000 people attending during its three month opening. It featured many of her key works, such as ‘My Bed’, as well as many lesser known pieces. The exhibition highlighted the continued theme of autobiography in Emin’s work, from the intimate nature of her line drawings, to the blunt and honest tone of the writing that accompanied them.
In 2011 she was also appointed as Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, the second female professor in the history of the institute, since its opening in 1768, behind Fiona Rae.
2012 has seen Emin become a mentor on the BA Great Britons Programme, which has seen her mentor upcoming British talent to produce artwork for twelve BA Aircraft in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games. It is the latest chapter of a diverse career that has seen Emin become one of Britain’s most famous and successful living artists.