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Umistakably Tracey

Independent, unflinching, irrepressible – Tracey Emin is one of the most renowned artists of our time. And an extremely inspiring interview partner, as the following conversation with SWISS Universe reveals.

Susanne von Meiss
Richard Young (portrait)

“I get my energy from nature and from my work.”

More than 80 of your works are on show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. You have chosen your favourite drawings by Egon Schiele, the famous Austrian expressionist, in order to create an exciting artistic dialogue. The title of this acclaimed show is: “Where I Want to Go”. Now, Tracey Emin, where do YOU want to go?

I want to disappear! Because the more I give, the less I can concentrate on my work. Now it’s time that my work speaks for itself and I as a person can disappear completely. This is where I want to go. Into hiding.

How did you experience the dialogue with Schiele’s work?

Very difficult and very exciting. He is not a living artist who would say yes or no to me. But it was wonderful to get into such a close dialogue with this great artist. I was wondering how he would like the show, would he be happy with the choice I made? I think so. On a 10-metre wall, I have hung only one single Schiele drawing, absolutely perfectly lit. It looks stunning. But I was still afraid about the outcome, because whenever I do a show I am incredibly nervous before the opening.

You often draw figures without a head. Why?

Why does it need a head? The figure is me. It’s a woman. The soul is important. My soul is part of me – a part that you can’t see. Look at Courbet’s “L’origine du monde”. It is sexy, it is fantastic! The woman doesn’t need a f***ing head!

Are you romantic?


Is beauty important to you?

Oh yes, very important. I’m not good at many things. But one of the few things I do well is knowing when something looks good, when it is in balance. And I know when it is right. Balance and harmony are essential. And where do I find beauty? In nature.

Which artist would you choose to paint Tracey Emin’s portrait?

Can I keep the painting? Then it would be Vermeer.

One of your famous neon sayings is “Wanting You”. Who is you?

Yourself, of course. Wanting yourself. I have written hundreds of sayings, but my favourite is the following: “People like you need to fuck people like me”. This piece is right now hanging above the desk of a very prominent businessman in New York. Fantastic.

Your iconic installation “My Bed” will be on display again until summer 2016 at the Tate Britain, where it first came to public attention during the 1999 Turner Prize exhibition. It is being shown at the Tate alongside six of your recent figure drawings, as well as two oil paintings by Francis Bacon, which you selected. How did this happen?

The installation was bought last year by the German businessman and collector Count Christian Duerckheim. He has now loaned the artwork to the Tate Britain for the next ten years. This is incredibly generous. “My Bed” is the result of a time of utmost turmoil in my life. I was devastated after a traumatic relationship breakup. I wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping, just drinking and didn’t leave the bed for four days. That was 16 years ago. But I am still very proud of the work and I am grateful that the right person bought it.

You often talk about solitude. Why?

Because as an artist you need solitude. You have to be mentally isolated. Making art isn’t a party. Making art is a serious matter. You shouldn’t take it easy. Art is a time bomb and you have to take responsibility for what you do. Therefore, it is very dangerous when you are still young and already very successful. Success should always be an inner success. And I always know when I have done a good painting. I don’t make fodder art. I don’t see pound signs in front of me and then make new neons or new blankets just to make money.

What is important to you?

After my abortion in 1990, I was no longer interested in how things look, but in how they are. We have so many things in life, we don’t need more. Art is very important to me.  But art should have an essence. I love to draw birds, for example. Birds are easy to love and they stand for what I like. My birds very often look like my friends. They are small and lovely. I would never draw an eagle.

Where do you take your energy from?

From sex? Oh no, I haven’t had sex for years. I get my energy from nature and from my work. If I can’t work, I become ill. When I look at a finished work, I am on a high. That’s much better than sex.

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