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To be honest, I’ve always been both fascinated by and simultaneously repulsed by Tracey Emin’s art.  It’s always seemed to me so brutal and so ‘flesh ripped open, here, look at me, look how gross this can be’.  It makes me feel uncomfortable, but somehow, like driving past a car crash, I just can’t stop myself looking at it.

I have a Tracey Emin book which I’ve only managed to glance at (am I afraid of her?).  It was a gift from my sister, very thoughtful and shows me she knows my fascinations, but I can’t quite face up to it somehow.  Even now a quick flick through has shown me at least half a dozen chapter headings my inner schoolmarm feels queasy at contemplating. 

But today I found myself getting excited as I jumped into my car to drive to work after stopping to pick up The Guardian to read at lunch time.  “How to draw by Tracey Emin” the header said.  So at lunch time I lost myself in the 3 pages of her drawings and her writings about her drawings.  Now, Tracey’s not one for a subtle image, nothing coy or twee.  And, being easily embarrassed, it was surprising to me that I was so blown away by her drawings that the content of a couple of them didn’t cause me to hide under my desk while I looked at them. 

In fact, her love for drawing and the power of art to become what we feel and what we remember is infused through the whole feature, for me anyway.  I was especially -moved? is that a bit cliched? – by her drawing ‘Ripped Up’ from 1995 and the accompanying text about the memories of having abortions.  Tonight I found a related section in her book ‘Strangeland’ and it stopped me in my tracks with it’s pain and honesty.  I can’t quite bring myself to quote it here, but instead I’ll quote her text from The Guardian today:

In 1995, even though things were going much, much better for me, I was still plagued with the memory of my abortions from 1990.  Mainly, because the first abortion I had didn’t work.  I was very ill and had to have another emergency operation.  Along with the pain and the guilt, I felt that I had to find a way to deal with this.  I made a series of drawings called Abortion. How It Feels, followed by another series called A Week from Hell.  I have tried to do abortion drawings since then, but they have never had the same intensity.  I think in 1995 I was still feeling the trauma of what Ihad been through.  I had just about stopped the yearning for a baby, and was coming to terms with my own creativity instead.  I know abortion is different for every woman, but I suffered the most digusting amount of guilt – when, actually, all I had done was make the right decision.

Tracey Emin's Ripped Up, 1995

“Ripped Up” 1995 Tracey Emin

I find it so challenging to contemplate that depth of honesty and truth and personal pain in someone’s artwork.  I admire it, although as I look at a return to art-making myself I wonder if it’s something I wish to aspire to.  My illustration background was always about expressing other people’s ideas, other people’s thoughts.  Why do people enter the art disciplines they do?  Are illustrators there to represent the world on behalf of others or to carve their own unique path of expression? 

Anyway, I’m no Tracey Emin but there are lessons  I should learn from her I think.

December 2018
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