Emin’s work has often been unfairly overshadowed by the controversies sourrounding the artist, early on in her career – namely, appearing drunk on TV and the (in)famous My Bed and Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 artworks.
A good deal of people still thinks of Tracey Emin as just that – a controversy courting pseudo-artist. She’s a celeb first, she’s “that lady who did that bed thing and was drunk on TV”. But the truth is – she’s extraordinary.
Room 1 of the exhibition is filled with a selection of her blankets. Though sometimes visually cluttered, they’re by no means less artistic for it. On the contrary, what superficially may seem as visual confusion, is, actually, the work of great skill, thought and patience. Each blanket is filled with an array of words, representing perhaps thoughts and feelings of the artist, or things she’s heard. The blankets are almost like visual representations of the inner self of the artist…so it’s no surprise they look so messy and confusing, after all, who isn’t? We’re all filled with turmoil…another interesting point, is that uniquely for a visual artwork, the focus is on words and the feelings and thoughts they represent, rather than on what we see in front of us.
And feelings and thoughts seems to be what interests Tracey Emin the most. Her work is totally autobiographical, and to see an exhibition like this, is to truly dwelve deep into her mind, which can be disturbing, or at least uncomfortable, sometimes.
Some of her work, the ones that use memorabilia, are more about Tracey than about art, and aesthetically they left me cold, even though they were about traumatical subjects such as abortion.
But most of the time, she mix aesthetics, emotion, art and her life experiences in a masterful way. Take the Neon artworks, which use a tacky medium commonly used to advertise in shops, red light destrics etc., but here used to highlight thoughts and feelings that most of us would bottle up inside and keep to ourselves. Tracey, unlike us, wants to expose herself, her feelings, and have them shinning brightly in a dark room.
The sheer scale of this exhibition is overwhelming, and it’s very hard to take it all in. There’s so much, there’s too much… too much rawness, too much bare feelings, too much of her own life. It’s not for everybody. You could visit any other exhibition and leave it none the wiser as to who the artist really was, as a person…but with Love Is What You Want, you feel as if you spent some time with Tracey Emin, you feel as if you got to know her…or at least more than you did before.
Room 5 shows some of Tracey’s more recent works. She’s less controversial, more focused, more serene. She seems to have definitely grown as an artist, and here you’ll see some of her most beautiful and creative works, such as White Rose (from 2007), her most elaborate neon to date.
Love Is What You Want is showing at Hayward Gallery, South Bank, London. Until 29th August. Entry £12 / £9 concessions. Don’t miss it!