Prominent artist Tracey Emin has said she has been “overlooked” over the years as people have dismissed her as “narcissistic” and “disturbed”.
Of course, best known for headline-grabbing works in the 1990s, such as Everyone I Have Sleept With and My Bed, said in a new interview that the “seriousness” of her pieces has not always been understood.
When she appeared on BBC Radio 4’s This Cultural Life, she replied when asked if her painting work had been overlooked: “No, I think I have been overlooked. I think they just thought I was a kind of narcissistic, insane, screaming banshee. “
Emin was one of the so-called young British artists who emerged in the 1990s, along with Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, and remains one of the most famous British artists of his generation.
She is famous for her autobiographical and confessional work, including My Bed – a notorious installation with empty vodka bottles, cigarette butts, colored sheets and used underwear – which was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999.
Her latest works include a neon sign from 2018 at London’s St Pancras station that says “I want my time with you”, and a Royal Academy exhibition from 2020 that showed her paintings alongside Edvard Munch’s work.
Last year, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with bladder cancer and told the art market news site Artnet that she had been working on a painting of a malignant lump before the growth was discovered.
Discussing her improvement in the Cultural Life interview, Emin said she had undergone robotic surgery and that her life was saved by medical science, as well as being in love.
“My surgeon was lovely,” she said. “A robot actually performed my entire operation, which is quite incredible. But I think love saved me.
“I really think love saved me this time, not art. I fell in love just before I found out I had cancer.”
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In the interview, Emin also said that being an artist can be “really lonely” and discussed a random encounter she had with the deceased musician David Bowie it led to them becoming friends.
“I was sitting in a Lebanese restaurant in Kensington in 1996 with a couple of other people and someone leaned over the table and said, ‘I’m very upset, my name is David and I just want to say how much I love your work ‘.
“And I looked up and David Bowie looked at me and I said ‘the same thing’.
“And we become friends. It was just amazing that the only person I’ve ever been a huge starstruck fan of, I became friends with.”
This Cultural Life airs on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds on Saturday at 7.15pm.