Tracey Emin, Enfant Terrible of British Contemporary Art

Tracey Emin opens her exhibition at the White Cube Bermondsey, London, 2019. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
Tracey Emin opens her exhibition at the White Cube Bermondsey, London, 2019. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Tracey Emin is a British conceptual artist born on July 3, 1963, in Croydon near London. She works with different techniques to achieve artworks with high autobiographical content. Tracey was part of the Young British Artists group and she was known as the “enfant terrible” of British contemporary art during the 1980s.

Life and Influences

Tracey artwork is created with a variety of media and techniques such as painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, film, video, and neon text too. In the late 1980s, she was a prominent member of the British Young Artists who rose to fame. She is now a Royal Academician of the Royal Academy of Arts.

She says that “There should be something revealing in art. It should be totally creative and open doors for new thoughts and experiences”. She was born in Croydon, a large city in South London, but grew up in Margate. She studied art in Maidstone and then studied painting at the Royal College of Art in London. After her studies in painting, she began to study philosophy.

Unfortunately, Tracey destroyed all her paintings from the first stage, but she recognizes her first artistic influences in artists like Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele. They were her first inspiration and thanks to that she achieved an expressive and autobiographical style. Her interest in the work of Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele can be seen in her paintings, monoprints, and drawings. In them, she explores complex personal states, expressionist themes, and a narrative oriented to her own experiences.

Fundamental Works

Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995)

Tracey Emin - Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995, 1995
Tracey Emin – Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995). Photo:

A tent with the names of all the people Tracey had shared a bed with, that is the theme behind Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995), one of Tracey’s most famous and recognized works. The work was shown at Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in London but was unfortunately destroyed in the fire at Momart’s London warehouse in 2004.

The work achieved iconic status and featured a tent with 102 printed names of people she had slept with up to the time of its creation in 1995. But share bed not necessarily in the sexual sense, Tracey considers her work to be one of the two “seminal pieces” she has created, the other is My bed. She has described both pieces as “a seminal, fantastic and amazing work”.

The title is often misinterpreted as a euphemism for sexual partners as if Tracey had wanted to write a list of all the people she has had sex with. But this was not her goal, the work has a more inclusive intention. She has explained that “Some I’d had a shag with in bed or against a wall some I had just slept with, like my grandma. I used to lay in her bed and hold her hand. We used to listen to the radio together and nod off to sleep. You don’t do that with someone you don’t love and don’t care about”.

The tent was square and blue, its shape was reminiscent of the Margate Shell Grotto, with which Emin was very familiar from childhood. There were names of friends, drinking partners, family, lovers, and even two fetuses. The name that could be seen most clearly through the opening of the tent was that of her ex-boyfriend, Billy Childish. On the floor of the tent was the text “With myself, always me, never forgetting”.

My Bed (1998)

Tracey Emin - My Bed, 1998
Tracey Emin – My Bed, 1998. Photo:

My Bed consisted of her bed with bedroom objects in a messy state and got a lot of media attention. The work was created in 1998 and exhibited at the Tate Gallery in 1999. It was one of the works shortlisted for the Turner Prize, it did not win the award, but its notoriety has continued to grow over time. It was sold at auction by Christie’s in July 2014 for £2,546,500.

The idea to create this work came from the sexual and depressive side of Tracey. When she looked at the terrible mess that had accumulated in her room, she suddenly realized what she had created. It was at a time when she had stayed in bed for four days without eating or drinking anything but alcohol.

The artwork generated a great deal of media excitement because the floor had Tracey’s items such as menstrual blood-stained underwear, condoms, and other remains. The sheets were stained with bodily secretions, the work is filled with everyday objects, including a pair of slippers.

Tracey claimed that the bed was in the state she was in after languishing in it for several days and said “at that time I was suffering from suicidal depression caused by difficulties in relationships”. Tracey had to defend My Bed to critics who treated it as a sham and claimed that anyone could display an unmade bed. Tracey responded, “Well, no one has ever done that before”.

I Promise To Love You (2014)

Tracey Emin - I Promise To Love You, 2013
Tracey Emin – I Promise To Love You, 2013. Photo:

I Promise To Love You is a work originally made with red and blue neon as a means to illuminate its promise. The work highlights the brilliant words that the author gently delivers to the viewer who will accept her message. It is currently available as an offset lithograph on paper with a size of 49.8 × 69.9 cm.

No Time for Love (2020)

Tracey Emin – No Time for Love, 2020. Photo:

No Time for Love, 2020 is a three-color lithographic print on paper with a size of 86 x 69 cm and priced in USD 8,993.

Recent activity

Tracey reveals her hopes, humiliations, failures, and successes in a candid and sometimes excusable work that is often both tragic and humorous. By re-appropriating conventional craft techniques, or “women’s work,” with radical intentions, Tracey’s work resonates with the feminist principles of “the personal as well as the political”. Tracey’s work has an immediate and often sexually provocative attitude that firmly places her work within the tradition of feminist discourse with raw and confessional nature.

She had her first solo show In 1993 at White Cube, a contemporary art gallery in London. In 1999, Tracey had her first solo exhibition in the United States at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, entitled Every Part of Me’s Bleeding. She was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999 and was awarded the title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2013. She works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among others.

Tracey received her MA from the Royal College of Art in London, where she is now a Royal Scholar and Honorary Doctor. Tracey has lectured on the links between creativity and autobiography at places such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Tate Britain in London (2005), the New South Wales Art Gallery in Sydney (2010), and the Royal Academy of Arts (2008). In December 2011, she was appointed professor of drawing at the Royal Academy; with Fiona Rae, she is one of the first two professors since the Academy was founded in 1768. Tracey currently lives in Spitalfields, East London.

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