Tracey Emin, born in 1963, is a contemporary artist best known for her confessional and autobiographical artwork, which she produces in various media including installation, watercolour, mono-print, neon, embroidery, photography, drawing, sculpture, film and painting. Emin grew up in Margate and studied at Maidstone College of Art (1986), followed by obtaining an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art in 1989. For decades, Tracey Emin has been synonymous with provocative and sexually explicit art inspiring a generation of female artist who explore womanhood and feminism.
Emin emerged in the art world during the 1980s as part of the Young British Artists movement (YBAs), with controversial pieces such as My Bed. She had her first solo exhibiton at the White Cube gallery in London in 1994 entitled My Major Retrospective and a year later she opened the Tracey Emin Museum in Waterloo. She rose to fame with her 1995 piece entitled Everyone I have Ever Slept With, 1963-1995. This installation consisted of a blue tent appliqued with several names in needlework. Using conventional handicraft techniques, ‘women’s work’, for radical intentions, Emin used a traditional gendered practice to share her own message. She also received a nomination for the Turner Prize in 1999 for her installation titled My Bed, Emin featured her own unmade bed in a state of disarray during a period of depression after a failed relationship.
As Tracey Emin’s art became known around the world, she began to receive official recognition for her achievements. In 2007 she became the second female artist ever to represent Britain at the 52nd Venice Biennale. That same year, Emin was made a Royal Academician and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal College of Art, a Doctor of Letters from the University of Kent and a Doctor of Philosophy from London Metropolitan University. In 2011, she became the Royal Academy’s Professor of Drawing, and in 2012 was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her contributions to the visual arts.
Often referred to as the “bad girl of British art”, Emin’s artistic persona directly challenges feminine social norms. Rejecting the stereotype of the polite, modest and reserved woman, she mimes autobiographical details with brutal honesty and dark humour, and her artworks have a distinct performative quality to them.
Emin avoids defining her ideology as aligned with a larger political cause. She can be considered a third-wave feminist, due to her belief that a woman can define her sexuality on her own terms. Many of her works force viewers to focus on taboo aspects of femininity and highlight the inconsistencies between men and women’s ability to engage with certain topics.
Her work tackles universal themes such as relationships, human behaviour and gender through a highly personal and confessional approach, revealing intimate details of her life and examining her hopes, fears, failures and successes.
There should be something revelatory about art… It should be totally creative and open doors for new thoughts and experiences” – Tracey Emin
In her paintings and drawings fluid and loose use of line contribute to the sense of sincerity and spontaneity of her work, and she is currently investigating the boundaries of text-based art, exploring the visual forms of writing within her work.
Emin has been exhibited internationally and features in public and private collections around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Hara Museum in Tokyo, Museum van Loon in Amsterdam and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.