Tuesday, April 23, 2013

'Mad Tracey from Croydon'

I used to love Tracey Emin. Her breakthrough exhibition at the South London Gallery in Camberwell 'I need Art like I need God' (way back in 1997) really blew me away, and I still think that she has brought some material into the art world boys club that has rarely found expression there before - young women's sexuality, abuse, abortion and growing up in unfashionable places: a 1999 documentary about her was famously titled 'Mad Tracey from Margate' (though we might note that she was actually born in Croydon May Day Hospital in 1963).

More recently she has become a bit of an embarrassing celeb, moaning about high taxes and, horror of horrors, publically admitting to voitng Tory in the last election (though she has subsequently criticised their art education policy). She has joined that select club with Morrissey and Jeanette Winterson of people whose younger selves' influence on my younger self can't be erased by their later baleful utterances - I guess you can't complain too much if you are drawn to professional contrarians and they end up acting in ways contrary to your own expectations of them.

I might not like Tracey Emin in her current guise,  but I can still admire the version of her who recalled walking through the Elephant and Castle in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher stood down as Prime Minister: 'I looked up at the buses, and people were banging on the windows and going 'Yeah!' And I noticed people were jumping up and down in the street...People looked so happy. I felt absolute jubilation' (quoted in 'Margaret Thatcher' by John Campbell, 2004).

As a homeless teenager, she ended up being  housed in Waterloo after six months of daily hassling Southwark Council . Later, she had a studio somewhere round the Elephant around 1990 though I'm not sure exactly where. In that period she worked for Southwark Council as a youth worker for a couple of years, and in 1992 she met her sometime collaborator Sarah Lucas when the latter had  an exhibition,'A penis nailed to a board', at City Racing - a former betting shop near the Oval (in a funny interview a couple of years ago, Lucas pointed out that she actually was a working class artist from a London council estate, whereas Emin's dad was a sometime businessman - not that Emin didn't have some very hard times).

 Emin has a new book out, My Photo Album, with some of the proceeds going to the no longer fashionable HIV charity The Terrence Higgins Trust. And I will also give her additional points for once donating some drawings to one of my favourite charities, Celia Hammond Animal Trust (of Lewisham Way, Canning Town and Hastings), from where we once secured two lovely cats - well nobody ever manages to come out of there with just one.

Come on Tracey, there's still time to dismiss those Cameron fan club moments as a terrible mid-life crisis and to grow old disgracefully.

Tracey Emin in her Elephant and Castle studio, 1990


deptford pudding said...

Her twin brother lives (maybe lived?) in Lewisham.


The studio was called The Tracey Emin Museum and it opened in 1995 at 221 Waterloo Rd (so not in The Elephant but not too far away).

It was a shopfront in amongst the other long term shops there - corner store, dentists, shop fittings clear out store, take away and all.

I used to go past on the bus late at night and would see Tracey working on those famous things of the time - embroidery, tent and so - as there were no curtains on the shop windows. Guess it was more of the same Emin art as exhibitionism, good and bad.

Transpontine said...

Thanks for the additional detail. I think the place in Waterloo Road may have been later than a separate studio at the Elephant. That photo was taken in 1990, and the caption to it in this article says it was at E&C. It's in the Daily Mail so it must be true: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2311050/Tracey-Emin-opens-intimate-photo-memoir-tells-Liz-Jones-past-shaped-lifes-work.html


Sorry! Lazy modern internet speed-reading. Interesting then that she had this studio down my way!