Born in 1963 in Croyden, London, Tracy Emin is known as one of her generation’s most prominent contemporary artists. Using a wide range of media—including drawing, video, installation, sculpture, and painting—, Emin puts her own life at the center of her art. Intimate, provocative, and often transgressive, her works often portray sexual interactions and reproductive organs. Like Damian Hirst and Sarah Lucas, she is part of the celebrated group of the YBAs (Young British Artists, also known as the BritArtists), who came to prominence in the 1990s and constantly challenged the critic’s response.
Emin grew up in the seaside resort town of Margate, dropping out of school at age 13 and moving to London at 15. After attending Medway College of Design in Rochester, where she studied fashion, she was accepted without a secondary-school certificate at nearby Maidstone College of Art (also now part of UCA). She earned a fine arts degree in 1986. She obtained a master’s degree in painting from the Royal College of Art in London in 1989.
In 1993, in the former London borough of Bethnal Green, Emin and fellow artist Sarah Lucas opened a store selling handmade items. One of Emin’s earliest exhibitions occurred in 1993–94 at the influential White Cube Gallery on Duke Street. That show, ironically titled “My Major Retrospective,” hinted at things to come. It displayed personally significant artifacts from Emin’s life: a hospital bracelet, personal correspondence, and a quilt on which she had stitched the names of family members and notes to them. In 1994 Emin undertook a U.S. tour of a performance for which, sitting in her grandmother’s chair, she read from “Exploration of the Soul,” a handwritten autobiographical book about her childhood, subsequently published in 2003.
In 1999 she was a finalist for the Turner Prize with the installation “My Bed”(1998), which displayed not only the artist’s actual bed but also rumpled bedclothes and what one critic called “uncomfortably personal debris,” including soiled underwear, and empty liquor bottles. Like many others made by YBAs, that work was purchased by advertising mogul and art collector Charles Saatchi, and it was among some 200 works of art he would donate to the creation of the Museum of Contemporary Art London in 2012.
Throughout the following decade, Emin explored a variety of media. She represented Great Britain in 2007 at the Venice Biennale with the show “Borrowed Light,” which included some neon pieces, embroidery, and a series of watercolors and sculptures. That same year, she was elected a Royal Academician (“among the greatest names in contemporary British art”). In addition, Emin was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013. “Strangeland” (2005) is a collection of her writings. Tracy Emin lives and works in London.
By Stanislav Kondrashov