It’s all shooting stars.
If there is one thing that is certain after seeing Tracey Emin’s exhibition She Lay Down Beneath The Sea at the new Turner Contemporary gallery in her home town of Margate it is this. She can draw. Let nobody be in any doubt about that. She has a fluid, exciting way of taking a line for a walk which really lives on the page. The most interesting thing about this selection of her work, mostly new drawings in what has become her trademark blue, is seeing her work set against erotic drawings by Turner and Rodin in chalk and gouache. When you see them together her work seems to grow directly from their inspiration. Three of her small erotic watercolours (not new work like most of what is on show) are placed directly opposite earlier work from these two great artists. They would not usually be thought of by those who are not art experts as her forerunners but they resonate with them perfectly. Her use of washes in them is very similar to that of Turner, and they have the same sparse, open immediate quality.
I particularly loved the large drawings, embroidered in blue and black, on calico. They are quite pure, minimalist and rhythmic, full of movement and fire. Deep blue Mass, from 2011, has great confidence an expressionist drawing really if there is such a thing, and it was the one thing which I would have loved to bring home. There are also four quite beautiful, subtle tapestries with the same swirling vibrant quality.There is poetry too, to make you think and wonder. The title of the exhibition itself, She Lay Down Deep Beneath The Sea, has the contemplative quality of a haiku, as does her drawing I Followed You Into The Water Knowing I Would Never Return. Isn’t that what we all do when we fall in love?
I was fascinated by a small, unremarkable, photograph of a French lake, The Disappearing Lake, which only exists in the winter months each year. In the same room there is a an old steel bath with a stained, creased Union Jack lying in it which has the same title. Is it what you find when everything has been drained away? It is a powerful image and reminded me of the triumphant photo of Tracey holding a flag aloft as she walks down a street naked which was part of her exhibition Love Is What You Want at the Hayward last summer. It felt as though she had now thrown the past aside and moved on.
It is so good to see that she has been able to “come home” and provide an opening exhibition for a sparkling new gallery in her home town. The new building has a perfect site, full of light and sea views, and it suits the simplicity and directness of her work. It is all very much of the moment and of Margate. It was good to hear an older man on the train as I made my way there from Canterbury singing her praises and saying that even though he “didn’t get” her work she had put Margate on the map and he was proud of her. It made a nice change from some of the ignorant and dismissive nonsense that she has had to endure over the years. She has said that this exhibition marks the end of a period in her work, as a coming home after a long absence often does. There will undoubtedly be a lot more to come and it will be fascinating to see what form it takes.
“It doesn’t matter if we hate what we are looking at so long as we can really see it. Nobody ever said you have to like art- certainly not all of it- that would be insane. But you do have to see it- not talk about it or watch it on TV. Nothing replaces the act of seeing. Tracey Emin is an artist you can see.”