Tracey Emin started out as a controversial artist thanks to works such as Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 – a tent with embroidered names of those Emin had ever shared a bed with, and My Bed – which consisted of Emin’s own unmade dirty bed, where she had spent weeks drinking, smoking, eating, sleeping and having sex. Now, Emin is a firm part of the traditional art establishment as a Royal Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts. But that does not mean that Emin has become dull and conventional. I just don’t think she has it in her to ever fit in completely, not quietly anyway.
Emin is an inspiration for many reasons. For a start, I just like her art. For instance her neon sculptures of words, including ‘Love is What You Want’, are beautiful to look at. Liking someone’s artwork is a very personal reaction and why one responds favourably to one artist and not another is such a huge and complex subject, that it’s simply beyond me to try and tackle it.
Before, I have banged on about separating art from the artist, and I must be strongly influenced in my liking of Emin’s art by the fact that I like what she says. She is a woman of my generation, which means I relate to her experiences of growing up in a world where sexual harassment was very much part of the culture. Sexual harassment and assault, sadly, are still too prevalent, as #metoo shows, but at least some men in the media and in power, are now being publicly shamed, and prosecuted. There was no #metoo in the 70s.
I suggest you listen to Emin speaking on Desert Island Discs to Sue Lawley in 2004, where she describes how she was raped as a teenager, but that this was such a common event where she grew up, that it was almost expected. You would just tell your friends you ‘had been broken into’ and they knew what you meant and would not be shocked, or surprised. Even Emin’s own mother took the news in her stride. It was what happened.
Emin mines her life story for her art, and it is this personal approach that draws me to the work she creates.
Emin broke the mould by becoming a standout artist at a time when men dominated the established artworld. They still do, but at least we have one brilliant, eloquent, rebellious woman showing the traditional way is usually the out-of-date way. In her own words (at the Hay Literary Festival in 2017): “I know artists who make the same fucking work day in, day out. They make it, they sell it, they make another version, they sell it… that is what their fucking life is… that is not being an artist.” And one last reason I like Emin, is that she knows how to swear.
I fucking love her.