Award winning conceptual artist Tracey Emin has turned her creativity to the most traditional form of art making: drawing. As a child she’d endeavored to draw realistically, then abandoned it for decades to do more conceptual work, and finally re-embraced it after realizing that the key was not to draw things the way they look, but the way they are. This freed her from the tyranny of perspective, shading, modeling, rendering the anatomy, and all the other constraints of conventional drawing. Accuracy and representation are crutches in drawing, and this is why Tracey states, “Some of my favourite drawings I have done with my eyes closed – or so drunk I do not remember making them.”
Her drawings are eruptions of emotion swathed in memory. The need to express the feeling is released spontaneously through the pen or pencil without premeditation. One critic said that her drawing skill is “outshown by your average newspaper cartoonist” and another that “in attempting to not do anything conventionally good, Emin falls into the trap of making conventionally horrible drawings”.
The critics might be surprised by her newest series of drawings, the only ones of which she didn’t immediately destroy were the one’s she doesn’t remember ever making*. “When I look at these they surprise me, like they’re not even by me, but they are about me, and I learn from them”, says Tracey. Her avowed aim was to “reach a condition” where she couldn’t dodge honesty, and would look at herself directly, as if for the first time. Tracey explains, “I have these really incredible, amazing insights into myself, and then, I can’t even fucking remember what they were, so I decided to make drawings when I’ve reached that peak and then find them the next morning.”
The self portrait above is one of Emin’s personal favorites from the new series. The artist stated, “When I found this on the floor in the bathroom, I was pulverized. I don’t remember drawing this but obviously it was me looking in the bathroom mirror, studying myself, and trying to capture the fleeting instant of my naked core. When I looked at it, it was like when you see yourself in a mirror you didn’t know was there, and at first you see yourself as someone else and as someone else sees you.” More than just seeing oneself as others see you, the following piece was dangerously self critical.
Emin was not pleased when she awoke to find this drawing nestled beside her on her bed. The artist shared that, “My first reaction was, ‘What the fuck!’ but then I knew it had to be good because it was issued from my inner self”. She took exception to the notion that her success was due (or “do”) to her ample bosom, and her sexual availability to the imagination of her audience, but finally came to the conclusion that “even if it was I deserved it anyway for my art”.
Whether or not we think her drawings are more accomplished in their crudity than more conventionally skilled drawings, and regardless of if her success is the result of her overtly sexualized public persona, we must admire her willingness to confront the drawings of her uninhibited inner self, and to exhibit art which never went through the filter of a sober, rational mind. [See amendment below]
*Right. You knew it. THIS IS A PARODY. Those aren’t real Emin drawings. Well, the first two are, but the last two I drew with my foot. The point can be summed up in a word, Tracey Emin’s drawings SUCK. And I do rather think a goodly portion of her fame IS due to her image/persona, the phenomenon of celebrity, and the fetishization of anything touched by a celebrity as a totem of immortality. Remember folks, just because skill isn’t necessarily a marker of great art, it doesn’t mean that chicken scratch is. I can’t quite imagine the bold arrogance and presumptuousness of assuming one’s hastily scrawled drawings, perhaps done with eyes closed or when so drunk one won’t remember even doing them, are worth tens of thousands of dollars, or hanging in a museum next to a painting by Lucien Freud or Francis Bacon. One really needs an overinflated ego of air-balloon proportions for that. Emin’s drawings are to painting what her writing on the drawings is to the novel. Besides which, any competent artist should be able to take over her drawings with just a little practice at drawing like shit. I recommend using one’s foot to draw, and closing one’s eyes, best done when sloppy drunk.
Amendment: After seeing the South Bank interview with Emin. and a video in which she discusses her admiration for Louise Bourgeois, I’ve rather softened my stance on Tracy. I kind of like her quilts and tent piece, and I didn’t formerly know anything about her biography, which is necessary to appreciate her art. And I quite enjoyed her discussion of Bourgeois. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of her work, especially her drawings, but I’m not as put off by her work as I formerly was.