Tracey Emin: Artist Portrait

Tracey Emin

Born 1963.

Works by Tracey Emin at Sotheby's

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Tracey Emin Biography

British-born artist Tracey Emin is perhaps as well known for her provocative, and sometimes outright controversial artistic practice as her tempestuous personality (she has frequently been referenced as the “enfant terrible” or “bad girl” of British art). Emin initially studied at the Medway College of Design beginning in 1980, where she met fellow artist Billy Childish; Childish would later develop a movement termed Stuckism, inspired by Emin who had commented that his paintings were “stuck”. She dropped out of the College after only two years, but in 1987 she enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London. Little of her work from this period is still extant, as she destroyed everything after having two traumatic abortions. One painting that survived, Friendship (1989), is currently in the College’s collection.

While in London, Emin became involved with a number of young avant-garde artists, including Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, and the group was eventually called the Young British Artists. Although they began exhibiting together independently, it was the gallerist Charles Saatchi (who gave them a group show in 1992) who is credited for discovering and promoting their work. In 1993, Emin had her first solo exhibition at White Cube gallery in London. The work shown in this exhibition was a conflation of installation and archive, with photographs and ephemera from her life. In the following years Emin worked with a diverse range of media—including sculpture, painting, textile, and installation, among others—and increasingly deployed deeply personal, diaristic imperatives as her subject matter. In 1999, she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize, and she exhibited what is perhaps her most famous work My Bed (1998). For this work, she installed at the Tate Gallery a portion of her bedroom, including her unmade bed—dirty sheets and all—a small nightstand, various liquor bottles, cigarette butts, and condoms among other personal items.

Although Emin garnered more than her fair share of notoriety in the 1990s, owing partly to both her radical artwork and a series of scandalizing televised interviews, she has stepped back from the public spotlight in recent years, and, today, continues to live and work in London. Her work has been acquired by a number of significant collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Tate Modern, London; and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

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Artist Image: 1996 Harry Borden