‘A Fortnight of Tears’ by Tracey Emin – an all-over installation at White Cube Gallery, London, includes sculpture, neon, painting, film, photography and drawing, all focusing on the artist’s own memories and emotions arising from loss, pathos, anger and love.
In her new paintings shown throughout the exhibition, Emin articulates the joy and suffering that is intrinsic to human existence, from the often fraught territory of sexual relationships, to the physical trauma of abortion, and the recent passing of her mother. There is an uninhibited energy to these new works, as she powerfully inscribes emotional turmoil through a freer yet assertive form of gestural figuration.
Focusing on her own body as a conduit for her feelings, she connects with a history of expressive figuration in art, from the moving realism of Käthe Kollwitz to the modernist angst of Edvard Munch or the heightened sexuality of Egon Schiele’s female subjects.
Emin employs a palette of visceral pink and dark red tones in many of the works, creating a heightened physicality that alludes to the degenerative journey between birth and death. Drips and bleeding paint point to the fluidity of the body and figures are ghostly, bereft of any recognisable details of context or place. In I watched you disappear. Pink Ghost (2018), for example, a spectral presence appears to be dissolving, insubstantial and elusive.
Several other highly gestural figures, such as But you never wanted me (2018), or It was all too Much (2018), convey feelings of love and desire, while others bluntly depict the acts of sexual aggression that continue to haunt the artist.
‘A Fortnight of Tears’ centres around Emin’s own pain, including her mother’s death, with works shown in The Ashes Room evoking states of bereavement, mourning and enduring love. Set against the melancholic grey tone of the walls, I Could Feel You (2018), Bye Bye Mum (2018), I Prayed (2017) and Can you hear me (2017) all depict grief with absolute candour. In I was too young to be carrying your Ashes (2017–18) the sheer sorrow contained in the figure clutching a box is conveyed through broad brushstrokes that turn from vivid red to black.
In a new film screened alongside these paintings, the camera pans slowly across a table towards a wooden box placed at one end, bathed in an ethereal light. Emin recalls the overwhelming weight of her mother’s ashes as she carried them back to her home: ‘I carried her ashes across the street – trying not to cry, trying not to think. It somehow felt wrong like I was stealing something – like I was a thief’.
Exhibited alongside the paintings, film and drawings are four vitrines containing intimate works on paper, maquettes and memorabilia curated from the artist’s archive, which are organised thematically, based on the subjects of love, sex, death and fear.
The endnote to the exhibition is How It Feels (1996), a pivotal early film in Emin’s career. Here the artist, seen walking through the streets of London, recounts the ordeal of her first abortion in 1990 and how through that crisis she came to the revelation that art could not be made for art’s sake it had to be intrinsically bound up with her own life. As she described it: ‘the essence of creativity, that moment of conception… the whole being of everything… it had to be about where it was really coming from’.
All images: Tracey Emin,’A Fortnight of Tears‘, White Cube Bermondsey, February – 7 April 2019, © Tracey Emin.
All rights reserved, DACS 2017. Photo © White Cube
A Fortnight of Tears
White Cube Gallery
Through 07 May 2019