Tea with Emin


Having reached her fifties Tracey Emin is at an exciting and more settled point in her life and her exhibition ‘The Last Great Adventure is You’ at the White Cube shows this.  The last great adventure is usually said to be death and tellingly a lot of her recent work is obsessed with her own ageing. It is fascinating to have a strong and vocal artist addressing issues of the female self as she moves past mid-life and enters the later stages of her life.

The row of bold yet delicate figure drawings, drawn in masculine blue gouache, portray a woman anchored firmly in the twenty-first century, embracing her sensuality with all the joy and vulnerability that this entails. The absent facial features and unformed parts add a fragility to bodies which in other ways are robust and unapologetic, but also emphasise the internal nature of her view. This is the essence of so much of her work – a bold, brash exterior with a poignant fragility beneath, a woman conflicted in knowing how much it is safe to love.  Roman Standard, the small, delicate bird perched brazenly high on a pole in the courtyard, plays with our perceptions of power and strength in a similar manner.

The stars of the show for me were three small, beautifully beguiling paintings. With the Grotto pieces we see soft, pale pinks and blues with hints of figures which have been worked and reworked. Disclosing that she has worked on these canvases for up to ten years there is, certainly, the appearance of the passing of time and the changes surrounding her body. The grotto theme, as a perpetuation of the place of comfort and protection, has passed from bed to tent to blankets and now on to something more naturalistic and enduring.  It most certainly echoes the feelings that The Shell Grotto in Margate evokes for her, the familiar yet enigmatic place of magical wonder.

In a recent interview she spoke about middle age bringing extra weight to her body and a general sense of heaviness. It is not surprising that she is embracing bronze, heavy in colour and substance, rough in finish and design. This new area of work suggests a confidence and desire to portray her radical exploration of the female form through a classical and historically male medium. Who do we compare these sculptures too, which other female artists have paved the way?

This show works much better than ‘Love is What You Want’ from 2011 at the Hayward Gallery. It has a coherency and a beauty to it which left me wondering “what next for Tracey Emin?” It might be that I have followed her from angry, young feminist to maturing, self-contented woman but sipping tea from my “Margate is Just a Kiss Away” fine bone china teacup I just can’t get enough of her!


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