ALUN EVANS: Tracey Emin is, without a doubt, one of the leading public figures in contemporary British art. The key word here is public; she has become as well-known for her public image as much as for her artwork. As such it was interesting, upon visiting her lecture at the RIBA, to hear her announce that she was pleased to be discussing her drawings and their artistic merits - rather than delving so much into her heavily publicised personal history.
She was there to talk about her latest book, One Thousand Drawings, and as the audience (a mixture of young hipsters dressed in the latest retro garb and “respectable-looking” well-dressed elders) took their seats, a projection shone above two black leather seats and a nondescript coffee table. The image was a monoprint of a crucifixion scene entitled the “Disposition”, though Emin admitted good-naturedly that it was misspelt: it should have been the “Deposition”.
After asking politely for a bottle of white wine, Emin began to discuss the subsequent projected images with Time Out's visual arts editor Ossian Ward. Emin excelled in her role as public speaker, bearing no hint of reticence in speaking about the inspiration behind her work, which covered a substantial period of her life as an artist; as a despondent yet passionate unknown from the late Eighties up until her notoriety and success into the late Noughties.
Even though she had spoken about keeping the tone of the discussion focused on her artwork rather than her personal life, looking nostalgically back through her drawings, which she kept as a “visual diary”, it seemed that this half-hearted maxim would always be an impossible task; her work and her personal history are so inextricably linked, it’s impossible for either Emin or her audience to totally disassociate the two.
Ostensibly energised and prompted by the series of projections that flared up behind her, Emin spoke of her feelings of loneliness and inadequacy as a young artist, but now with the confident approach of someone who has come to terms with facing their past. She also spoke frankly about her early background and childhood of abuse. There was an underlying humour and strength in her voice throughout her recounts of these tragic events and she had many happier memories wrapped up in and around these drawings, all of which, rushed for time, she recounted in less than an hour and a half.
In my own personal/public evening with Tracey Emin, she came across as an open, happy, well-mannered, very self-aware and confident person; a woman unwilling to be a victim to circumstance; a feminist in the truest sense of the word.
After the talk, Emin walked to the back of the hall for the arranged book signing. A long queue formed, made up of most of the evening's inhabitants, buoyantly equipped with their newly bought book of One Thousand Drawings and free glass of wine. From what I could gather, they had enjoyed the evening as much as I had.
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