10 things you should know about Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin is one of the most prominent British artists of the contemporary art world nowadays. Most of her works is autobiographical. and revolves around her personal traumas growing up in Margate, and becoming the person she is today. Often criticised for being ‘self-centred’, her loud self and often provocative work has caused much ink to flow since her break through as Charles Saatchi’s protegé.

Discover ten funny facts -sometimes not so funny- about this fascinating artist !



Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst

Tracey Emin, along with Damien Hirst, Jake and Dino Chapman, Jenny Saville or Chris Offili, is one of the artists spotted out and launched by world famous collector Charles Saatchi and his Young British Artists movement in the 1980’s. That was the kick start of Emin’s career.



Tracey and her twin brother Paul

While Tracey Emin’s life has been largely publicized, one major element of her personal story seem to slip away from the spotlights. She has a twin brother, Paul, who could not live a more different life than she does. Unemployed carpenter, he got diagnosed with epilepsy and mostly lives on subsidies. His relationship with Tracey is rather unstable, even though they shared a unique bond when they were children.



Tracey Emin’s work revolves around her troubled life, and her tough childhood has infused her art from the start. She definitely got a rough start in life, which included discovering pretty early on that her father was living a double life and had another family with three children, being raped at the age of 13, and later on, going through an abortion at the age of 18. No wonder why her art is so tortured…



Everyone I ever slept with 1963-1995, 1995

For the first show of the Young British Artists, the piece that Tracey Emin presented and that immediately put her under the spotlights was the installation consisting of a tent on which were written the names of “Everyone –she– ever slept with 1963-95” (which is how she entitled the piece).

Playing on the double meaning of “sleeping”, she wrote the names of family members and her fetuses too.

Owned by Charles Saatchi, the piece got destroyed in a fire in 2004.



My Bed, 1998

The second star piece of Tracey Emin is “My Bed”, shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999. The artwork displayed an unmade bed covered with objects showing her struggle with depression and outrageous lifestyle: used condoms, empty bottles, slippers and body fluids on the sheets.

Even though, Tracey Emin is known for displaying intimate objects of her life, this installation was not, in fact, her own bed, but a consciously constructed work.

Just this year, the piece got sold at Christies for over 2 million pounds…



Tracey Emin at the British pavilion in Venice. Photograph: David Levene

In 2007, Tracey Emin represented Britain at the 52nd Venice Biennale. While a lot of people from the art world feared scandal, she presented a pavilion entitled “Borrowed Light” presenting works especially made for the occasion. To do so, she used a wide variety of media, from needlework, photography and video to drawing, painting, sculpture and neon.



Beginning of a love letter by Tracey Emin

A couple of years ago, one of Tracey Emin’s ex-boyfriend when she was 14 auctioned her old love letters. The artist was scandalized! Yet the fact that she herself uses her personal life as art material, and that she made her ex-boyfriend’s names public on her piece “Everyone I ever slept with 1963-95” makes it a bit tricky. Once you use the details of your own private life, including details concerning others, can you be pissed when they return the favor ?

“That’s iffy, isn’t it? Selling a 14-year-old girl’s love letters?” she asks. “People say, ‘Oh you put his name in the tent,’ but it didn’t say whether I’d slept with him and now that tent’s burnt anyway.” As Emin points out, revealing the name of a 22-year-old man she slept with (in either sense of the phrase) is rather different from auctioning off the explicit thoughts of a troubled 14-year-old girl.

“I was 14! What was he thinking? I was up for it but even so. Someone who is 19 got done the other day for having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old,” she added. Whether or not Emin was “up for it” at the time, the fact that the same man who took advantage of her at a very young age continues to exploit Emin over 30 years after the fact is ugly. It also raises the question, once you open the door with confessional art or writing, is it possible to retain a sense of privacy?



After having been the turbulent and scandalous child of England for years, Tracey Emin achieved official recognition and respect. She was in fact chosen to create a limited edition print for both the 2012 Olympics and the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Tracey Emin has now acquired a status of recognized and institutional artist.

In 2007, Emin was inducted into the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and in 2011, she was appointed as a professor of drawing.



Tracey Emin in front of Egon Schiele’s Seated Male Nude (1910)
Photo: A. Ludwig via Leopold Museum, Vienna

As every artist, Tracey Emin looks up to masters from the past and consecrated modern artists. She has said on many occasions that she is indebted to her hero Edvard Munch, and to Egon Schiele. The use of language in both the monoprints and the blankets nods to Basquiat. The neon lighting pieces are influenced by Don Flavin and Bruce Naumann. My Bed recalls Rauschenberg’s Bed and, more subtly, the bed of Manet’s Olympia. The Helter Skelter construction references the Tatlin tower. And the blanket work in general builds on the use of sewing and textiles by feminist artists of the 1970s and 1980s.



Tracey Emin book signing at Emin International Shop

Just this past July, Tracey Emin raised another wave of controversy.  She indeed announced her intention to demolish a listed building of East London.

The East End Preservation Society (EEPS) is urging locals to vote against the artist’s scheme to pull down the 1920s complex in Bell Lane to replace it with a “angular and blank” studio.

When, in 2008, she bought this building established in the 17th century, Tracey Emin spoke about the importance of the area’s unique architectural heritage and artisan history. In an interview with the Observer, Emin said of the factory: “It is a listed building and it is important to me to keep artists working in the area and keep it in artisan use. And also not to have it turned into a hotel or restaurant.”