Tracey Emin | A Timeline: from unmade beds to the Royal Academy
Editorial / Artists

Tracey Emin | A Timeline: from unmade beds to the Royal Academy

30 Jun 2022

1963: A Margate Childhood

Tracey Emin’s turbulent childhood and adolescence shaped her early work, leading critics to categorise her pieces as ‘confessional’. Born in 1963, she grew up in the seaside town of Margate – then a hotspot for youth unemployment and deprivation. Her father owned the Hotel International, which was run by her mother, but he also had another family in London and split his time between the two. Her teenage rape, abortions and bullying have all been documented in her work and, during the 1990s, she made the quilt Hotel International, an autobiographical deep dive into her youth.

Tracey Emin pictured at White Cube working on ‘Hotel International'. The work was shown in Emin’s first White Cube exhibition, which opened in November 1993.

Tracey Emin pictured at White Cube working on ‘Hotel International'. The work was shown in Emin’s first White Cube exhibition, which opened in November 1993.

White Cube

1990s: Young British Artist

Although she graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts in 1989, it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that Emin’s career went stratospheric. As one of the Young British Artists, she rode the Cool Britannia wave, exhibiting at the just-opened White Cube in 1994 and creating her infamous tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, emblazoned with the names of all the people who had shared a bed with her.

Tracey Emin, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995.
Tracey Emin, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995.

Tracey Emin, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995.

South London Gallery

1999: The Turner Prize Nomination

Four years later, Emin returned to documenting her sleeping arrangements with the installation My Bed. A reconstruction of her own bed after a prolonged period of drinking and drugs, the piece included period-stained underwear and used condoms. Generating much media furore, it won Emin a Turner Prize nomination in 1999 and was subsequently bought by Charles Saatchi (it then netted more than £2.5 million at a Christie’s auction in 2014).

2000s: Back to School

Emin’s relationship with the Royal Academy spans decades, and she was one of the artists included in 1997’s controversial but pioneering Sensation exhibition. In 2008, she was chosen to be a curator of its summer exhibition, and a few years later she became a Professor of Drawing at the institution, one of only two women to have ever held the post.

Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Gallery at the Royal Academy, London

Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Gallery at the Royal Academy, London

smarthistory.org

2019: A Very Public Illness

The confessional nature of work means that Emin has often drawn on her private life for material. When she was diagnosed with squamous cell bladder cancer in 2019, she diarised her treatment through a series of photographic self-portraits which she shared with The Guardian. Conveying the experience through her art was a way to control her own narrative. As she told the paper, “this is mine – I own it.”

Exhibition view, Tracey Emin, A Fortnight of Tears, White Cube, London, 2019.

Exhibition view, Tracey Emin, A Fortnight of Tears, White Cube, London, 2019.

White Cube

2020: Finding a Place In Art History

Emin’s illness didn’t stop her quest to place herself within a strong lineage of figurative painters. Her ambition to be seen as far more than simply a YBA has led to a series of exhibitions linking her with other figurative painters from the past, including the much-lauded The Loneliness of the Soul, which opened at the Royal Academy during 2020. Pairing Emin’s paintings, neons and sculptures with works by Edvard Munch, it explored shared themes of grief, loss and longing.

Exhibition view, Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch, The Loneliness of the Soul, Royal Academy, London2021.

Exhibition view, Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch, The Loneliness of the Soul, Royal Academy, London2021.

Royal Academy

Now: Coming Home

Emin returned to Margate after her mother died and now lives in a cavernous old printworks, which she hopes will one day become a museum. This year, she also set out plans to open an art school and studios in the seaside town, as well as launch an artists residency programme.

Via Instagram/@traceyeminstudio

Via Instagram/@traceyeminstudio

See available works by Tracey Emin here. To discuss the artist or any of the pieces for sale in further detail, please contact us.

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