Tracey Emin review – fiercely honest artist bares body and soul | Tracey Emin

For a woman I have only met from a distance for about 10 minutes, I have seen Tracey Emin’s bottom an awful lot. I have seen it in ink, in paint, in bronze and on film. Sometimes it is pink and shapely, other times it is tilted in provocation or in the grasp of a lover. It appears in much of Emin’s new work at Jupiter Artland in I Lay Here for You, which includes sculpture, monotypes, paintings and work on paper, and details the artist’s recovery and rediscovery of love after suffering from bladder cancer.


Not to confuse the artist with subject, but there is no question here as to whether it is Emin – even in the works where her face is scrawled out of the artist is there, inviting us (quite literally) into the most intimate crevices of her life. Her bed and the life-affirming activities that happened therein are the subject of 11 monotypes created in 2022, and the revelatory titles of I Know You Loved Me – I Know Because I Loved You Too and Because I’m So Fucking Sexy. I Was Born Sexy and I Will Die Sexy read like diary entries.

Cast adrift ... Tracey Emin's I Keep Bleeding.
Cast adrift … Emin’s I Keep Bleeding. Photograph: White Cube/David Westwood

Meanwhile, a fully dressed and animated Emin sits atop a large, bronze sculpture she has created for Jupiter Artland’s extensive parkland, discussing the influence her mother had on her decision to attempt new, sizeable pieces. “When she died, I felt so bereft, it was like – well-fuck it,” she laughed. “Life’s short, go for it, do it because if I mess it up, I mess it up. It’s OK.” There is no separating Emin – the charismatic, fiercely honest artist – from the stripped bare figure that appears in ink, on canvas, in bronze. This vulnerability is incredibly powerful, and it has only intensified in the aftermath of her cancer surgery.

I Lay Here for You is almost the sequel to A Journey to Death currently on display in Margate where Emin displayed her first selection of work created since her illness. Where the first exhibition teetered on the precipice of life, this new show in Scotland is a step into the future, one bathed in pleasure rather than pain. In nearly every monotype, two figures intertwine, almost indistinguishable from one another, smudges appear beneath their bodies to indicate repetitive movement. Apparently, the series is based on memories of someone who helped Emin during her recovery.

Each monotype starts with the same lithographic background of Emin’s bed and the individual bedroom scenes are added by the artist using Indian ink. Choosing the exact same backdrop from which to add an enraptured couple, a bedside table, a rug, a lamp, or some medical equipment documents the continuous ebb and flow of human connection. Anyone who has invited a fellow human being into their bed will recognise the crushing solitude of staring into the night while they sleep, the frenetic energy of early lovemaking, the security of curling into an embrace and the perfect stillness that descends when alone but loved.

Emin in front of her work Wet
Fiercely honest … Emin in front of her work Wet. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

When paired with the revelatory titles that run from You Just Kept Wanting Me to Don’t Touch Me – Not Even in Your Dreams, the monotypes are a celebration of the compulsion of human intimacy that is unrivalled in its ability to destroy and restore, even in a very short space of time. In the second gallery – the Ballroom – the couple reappears on a small painted canvas, entitled I Keep Bleeding. Drenched in a violent red, the spooning pair are cast adrift on a white bed, clinging to one another – not in passion, but in an unified attempt to hold back suffering.

The bed appears twice more in this space but empty, vacant of lovers or those recovering from illness. Bathed in the pink light of dusk and neatly arranged with smooth, white sheets, the beds are silent and still, suggesting a moving on, not into something menacing, but into a new season of activity outside the home. There are some large, energetic canvases in here with thick painterly lines of the female form in all its fleshy glory, but it is the small depictions of beds that draw me across the ballroom to stare upon the hallowed walls of a bedroom where we are our most private selves. A tiny painting of a vagina draws the gaze even further, directly up inside.

A short walk away from the galleries lies a six-metre, bronze, nude woman, face settled into the ground, posterior raised, hand travelling towards ecstasy. Cocooned in the woodland, she evades eye contact and despite sharing her name with the exhibition – I Lay Here for You – I can’t help but feeling she forgot to wait for “you” in her laying. For this is a singular, larger-than-life figure, who has escaped the confines of bed, searching for pleasure in a forest glade, pleasing herself, fearless at the idea of ​​being caught vulnerable. Reminds me of an artist we know.

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