Biography for Tracey Emin (1963)
Emin was born in London, but brought up in Margate. She initially studied art in Maidstone, then returned to London to study painting at the Royal College of Art. She was initially influenced by Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele, though later destroyed all her paintings from this early period. Later still, she studied philosophy.
Early on in her career, Emin opened a shop called simply The Shop in Bethnal Green with fellow artist Sarah Lucas. This sold works by the two of them, including t-shirts and ash trays with Damien Hirst's picture stuck to the bottom.
In 1994 she had her first solo show at the White Cube gallery, one of the most significant galleries in London. It was called My Major Retrospective, and was typically autobiographical, consisting of personal photographs, and photos of her now destroyed early paintings as well as items which most artists would not consider showing in public, such as a packet of cigarettes her uncle was holding when decaptiated in a car crash. This willingness to show details of what would generally be thought of as her private life has become one of Emin's trademarks.
Although these early events caused Emin to be well known in art circles, she was largely unknown by the public until she appeared on a Channel 4 television program in 1997. It was an obstensibly serious debate show, and Emin was completely drunk (partly as a consequence of the painkillers she was taking for a broken finger), repeatedly saying that she wanted to go home to her mum.
Two years later, in 1999, Emin was shortlisted for the Turner Prize and exhibited My Bed at the Tate Gallery. This consisted of her own unmade bed, with sheets thrown back, used condoms and period-blood stained underwear. Such shocking insights into Emin's personal life were nothing new. Indeed Emin's art is frequently autobiographical. One of her best known works, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95, is a tent with the names of everyone she has slept with sewn onto it. These include sexual partners, but also relatives she slept with as a child, her twin brother, and her two aborted children.
Although often talked about as a shameless exhibition of her sexual conquests, it is rather a piece about intimacy in a more general sense. The needlework central to this work has been used by Emin in a number of her other pieces. Another autobiographical work is the film CV Cunt Vernacular (1997). This is essentially a biography, with Emin narrating her story from her childhood in Margate, through her student years, her abortions and destruction of her early works, as well as her later, more successful, work. Emin has also worked with neon lights. One such piece is You Forgot To Kiss My Soul which consists of those words in neon inside a neon heart-shape.