Tracey Emin is probably the marmite of the art world. Everyone has an opinion about her and her work and whether that be good or bad, it cannot be denied that she is arguably the most famous female living British artist.
Emin’s current show at White Cube focuses on the female nude, a subject that historically, would have been painted or sculpted by a male practitioner in a mythological context. The art historical nude would be idealised, hairless and unnaturally beautiful. Emin’s images have only the female form in common. Her figures are not an ideal. They are real. They are self-portraits.
The self-portraits within the show cover many art forms: drawings, paintings, sculpture and embroidery. The painted images are the most striking. Large bodies illustrated in blue gouache cover the walls. The outlines of these paintings are thick and expressive, breaking off from time to time. The work is full of emotion and while the images are by no means technically ‘perfect’, their honesty gives them a sense of power and presence.
While the paintings begin with two tones of colour, and the exhibition progresses, Emin introduces reds and pinks. These colours are associated with femininity yet these images are anything but fragile; they are fuelled with an emotional intensity that is mirrored in her sculptures.
The sculpture on display has been cast in bronze, another historical technique and it appears that the artist has not been looking forward for this latest group of work, but back. Emin has acknowledged that the show is about having to come to terms with ageing. Yet while one might expect someone having difficulty with the process of physically maturing to have a mid-life crisis and revisit their youth, Emin remains true to the subject of her work: herself. The artist continues to present herself as she is at this current moment in time.
Perhaps the work is not as overtly controversial as the installations she is most famous for, but there are still a few neon lights featured within the show. Emin’s approach to art seems to have ‘matured’, just as she has done, but the honesty remains in what may be dubbed the next chapter in her story.
Tracey Emin: The Last Great Adventure Is You is on display at White Cube, Bermondsey until 16th November