Overview

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Tracey Emin (b. 1963)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Tracey Emin (b. 1963)

Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made

Details
Tracey Emin (b. 1963)
Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made
installation including 12 paintings, 7 body paintings, 79 works on paper, 7 letters, numerous painted items, art supplies, personal items, 1 bed and mattress and various other items of furniture, 1 radio and CD player, 9 music CDs, various newspapers and magazines and numerous kitchen and food supplies
dimensions variable
Executed in 1996
Provenance
Galleri Andreas Brändström, Stockholm.
Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 8 February 2001, lot 30.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
B. Riemschneider and U. Grosenick (eds.), Art at the Turn of the Millennium, Cologne 1999 (Cologne version of the installation illustrated in colour, p. 149).
T. Warr (ed.), The Artists's Body, London 2000, p. 68 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 69 and on the cover).
Saatchi Gallery (ed.), 100: The Work that Changed British Art, London 2003, p. 209, no. 43 (illustrated in colour, p. 99).
H. Luard and P. Miles, Tracey Emin, London 2006, p. 220 and 413 (installation view, 'Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made 1996' illustrated in colour, pp. 221-224).
N. Brown, TE Tracey Emin, London 2006, p. 88 (installation view, 'Naked Photos: Life Model Goes Mad 1996' (illustrated in colour, p. 89).
Love is What You Want, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London 2011, p. 248 (installation view, 'Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made' illustrated in colour, p. 248).
Exhibited
Stockholm, Galleri Andreas Brändström, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made, 1996.
London, South London Gallery, I Need Art Like I Need God: Tracey Emin, 1997 (installation view, 'Naked Photos: Life Model Goes Mad 1996' illustrated in colour, pp. 38-39 and on the cover).
Cologne, Kölnsicher Kunstverein, Ca-Ca Poo-Poo, 1997-1998.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Ten Years, Tracey Emin, 2002.
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Tracey Emin: 20 Years, 2008 (installation view, 'Naked Photos: Life Model Goes Mad 1996' illustrated in colour, nos. 23-25, installation view, 'Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made 1996' illustrated in colour, no. 26). This exhibition later travelled to Malaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo and Bern, Kunstmuseum.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
VAT rate of 20% is payable on hammer price and buyer's premium

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Lot Essay

‘Many artists have used female nudes in their work. I’ve got a good female nude I can use whenever I like and its mine … I’m my own muse. And it’s so liberating to be naked. You have a better sense of your own being’ (T. Emin, quoted in C. Freedman (ed.), Tracey Emin: Works 1963-2006, New York 2006, p. 166).

‘You might think Klein was being sexist by using those models like that, but actually it was something remarkable. Those women were not “muses”, they were dancers, and he was like a choreographer and there was a fantastic skill involved’ (T. Emin, quoted in J. Wainwright, ‘Interview with Tracey Emin’, in M. Merck and C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 197).

‘I knew when I was doing the Yves Klein and they [the audience] didn’t know I was going to do it. I heard a stampede across the gallery and “she’s doing an Yves Klein!” – all these people fighting to get at the portholes’ (T. Emin, quoted in J. Wainwright, ‘Interview with Tracey Emin’, in M. Merck and C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 198).

‘It was about being stripped and it could have been about being vulnerable but actually it wasn’t, it became about the ego and about the strength of the ego. The strength of my failures are all amalgamated together. It was called Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made because it was for me to get rid of them, plus the fact that painting for me was completely moribund: it was completely bound up with failure. Failure – painting, painting – failure: two things joined together which I wanted to separate’ (T. Emin, quoted in J. Wainwright, ‘Interview with Tracey Emin’, in M. Merck and C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 198).

‘I have never not drawn, I have been drawing all my life’ (T. Emin, quoted in interview with A. Elkann, 11 December 2014, http://alainelkanninterviews. com/tracey-emin/ [accessed 5 January 2014]).

‘I am my own model. When you look at Picasso I am sure he used his own body as a model, all the women are square like he was. But then my favourite artists are Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele and they used themselves constantly in their work. So did Rembrandt and van Gogh’ (T. Emin, quoted in interview with A. Elkann, 11 December 2014, http://alainelkanninterviews.com/tracey-emin/ [accessed 5 January 2014]).

‘[Edvard Munch’s The Scream is] an incredible piece of work, and it needs to be championed for what it is, for its integrity. Someone painted the sound of a scream. People think it’s the figure screaming, but maybe it’s nature screaming at the figure’ (T. Emin, quoted in The Guardian Weekend, 12 October 2002, p. 32).

Documenting a seminal moment of breakthrough within Tracey Emin’s oeuvre, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made is an outstanding exposition of the artist’s celebrated painting and drawing practice. Executed in 1996, on the brink of her rise to critical acclaim, the work witnesses an impassioned re-engagement with these media after the prolonged six-year blockade against painting that followed the completion of her MA at the Royal College of Art. Over a three week period, in a groundbreaking act of catharsis, Emin launched herself into a frenetic artistic outpouring, filling streams of canvas and paper as she sought to dispel the fear and anxiety she had come to associate with painting. Working completely naked, she laid bare her entire artistic make-up, reinvigorating the visceral connection between her body and her art. Amidst candid diaristic notations and raw, self-reflective imagery, Emin forged expressive tributes to the grand canon of painters and draughtsmen that had nourished her artistic development. Paying homage to artists including Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele and Yves Klein, the resulting assemblage constitutes a tour de force of her aesthetic outlook. Comprising rich painterly abstractions, sketched charcoal nudes and textual declarations evocative of her fabric and neon works, it represents a deeply personal interrogation of her artistic orientation. Each paper and canvas records the traces of Emin’s hand and body as she attempted to cast off her artistic inhibitions, interweaving her own physicality with elegiac stories from her past and those drawn from the history of modern art. Emin’s paintings and drawings have since come to represent one of the most significant strands of her oeuvre, culminating in her appointment as Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2011. More recently, these media have witnessed a great resurgence in her practice, and in April this year, the Leopold Museum in Vienna will showcase a new body of her work in the major exhibition Tracey Emin – Egon Schiele: Where I Want To Go, placing her practice in dialogue with that of the great Expressionist master. In Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made, we witness the critical moment of renaissance that paved the way for Emin’s exceptional contribution to the medium, now spanning over nearly two decades.

Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made was originally conceived as an installation piece, created at the Galleri Andreas Brändström in Stockholm. Barricading herself in a room, visible only through a series of fish-eye lenses embedded in the walls, Emin invited viewers to watch her confront the medium that lay at the source of her six-year struggle. The installation, recorded in a series of photographs entitled Life Model Goes Mad, blurred the distinction between artist and muse: a poignant slippage for Emin, who had once earned a living as a life model. Now, at the dawn of her international career, Emin’s body became her artistic inspiration, forming the medium through which she would make her mark upon the blank surfaces around her. Harnessing every fibre of her being, both physical and mental, Emin’s ability to lay bare the facts of her own existence was ultimately to launch her work onto the global stage. She had recently completed her fabric tent Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, which was shown alongside the present work at the South London Gallery in 1997, and subsequently included in Charles Saatchi’s groundbreaking exhibition Sensation at the Royal Academy of Arts that same year. It was shortly after this in 1998 that Emin would create My Bed, subsequently nominated for the Turner Prize. In the same vein as these two landmark works, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made may be understood as a self-portrait of sorts: a retrospective coming-to-terms with her roots and a head-on engagement with her anxieties. Transcending its performative origins, the work stands today as a testament to the enduring power of painting and drawing as tools through which to confront the self in all its carnal and emotional complexity.

Following its exhibition at the South London Gallery – Emin’s first solo show in a public gallery space – Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made was shown at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 2002. Between 2008 and 2009, it formed part of the seminal retrospective Tracey Emin: 20 Years which travelled from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, to the Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland, the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Málaga and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

EMIN AS PAINTER AND DRAUGHTSMAN
Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made takes its cue from the rich field of art-historical reference upon which Emin’s practice is founded. In the linear immediacy of her draughtsmanship and the rich, gestural vocabulary of her brushwork, she pays particular homage to the visual language of Expressionism, filtered through the narrative of her own experience. Advised by Carl Freedman to ‘paint something [she] would like to own’, Emin’s first creation in the Stockholm gallery was a self-portrait inspired by Munch’s The Scream – one of the artist’s favourite historical paintings. An image that spoke directly to the cathartic release at the heart of her project, The Scream has informed much of Emin’s subsequent practice: two years later she would create a live-action flm rendition of the painting at the edge of an Oslo Fjord, featuring the sound of her own piercing scream. Like Munch’s masterpiece, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made is informed by a desire to detonate feelings of pain and fear, and the physical connection between hand and canvas created a channel through which to confront this psychological tension. ‘I like things which are touched by people’s hands, and I like to feel the transference of the energy through that’, Emin has explained. ‘Every artist that I really adore works with the self and their own emotions’ (T. Emin, quoted in ‘My Bed 1998: Tracey Emin In Conversation’, Christie’s London, May 2014). In two of the three further tributes to The Scream contained within Emin’s assemblage, the artist makes explicit the emotional content of the motif, emblazoning the words ‘I’m just so fucking wound up’ and, in deep crimson red, ‘Most of my life has been built on fear’.

In Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made, Emin’s attempt to dispel her longstanding blockade against painting saw her re-engage with her own corporeal form – a source of self-loathing for the artist at the time, in spite of the youthful beauty captured in the installation photographs. Emin’s exposed nudes paid homage to the drawings of Schiele, capturing his bold, schismatic linear style and overt presentation of the female form. Working completely naked, Emin fully embraced the connection between the body and the artwork, at times bringing about a re-evaluation of her male forbears. Covering herself in blue paint, she staged her own version of Yves Klein Anthropométries, imprinting her body and hands onto canvas in a demanding act of physical exertion. ‘You might think Klein was being sexist by using those models like that, but actually it was something remarkable’, Emin explains. ‘Those women were not “muses”, they were dancers, and he was like a choreographer and there was a fantastic skill involved’ (T. Emin, quoted in J. Wainwright, ‘Interview with Tracey Emin’, in M. Merck and C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 197). In recreating Klein’s immortalizing body prints, Emin performed her own intimate dance, experiencing the collision of fesh and canvas first-hand. To her unseen public, it was an instantly recognizable piece of theatre: ‘I knew when I was doing the Yves Klein and they [the audience] didn’t know I was going to do it’, she recalls. ‘I heard a stampede across the gallery and “she’s doing an Yves Klein!” – all these people fighting to get at the portholes’ (T. Emin, quoted in J. Wainwright, ‘Interview with Tracey Emin’, in M. Merck and C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 198).

Across the breadth of the work, further historical associations shift in and out of focus, documenting Emin’s determination to harness every aspect of her inner resources. Allusions to the figural works of Picasso and Matisse vie with richly-worked painterly surfaces, variously evoking the base tactility of Robert Rauschenberg, the gestural exuberance of Franz Kline and the sublime colour-field expanses of Abstract Expressionism. Her free-flowing application of paint, as well as the linear elegance of her graphic style, recalls the work of Cy Twombly, an artist whom Emin greatly admires. At the same time, Emin weaves a textual narrative through the work: a stream of consciousness laced with letters, slogans and diaristic outpourings. ‘I love you Sarah’ pays homage to her great friend and artistic partner at the time Sarah Lucas, with whom Emin had opened the renowned shop in Bethnal Green several years earlier. From invocations of hope and joy to those of resignation and fear, Emin’s unique brand of poetry reaches across multiple emotional registers. Indicative of her celebrated fair for contemporary story-telling, these written fragments recall the aesthetic of the early appliquéd blanket works that the artist had begun several years previously. Indeed, several of Emin’s paintings appear to mimic the format of her blankets, with their planar divisions of colour and superimposed text. Recreated in the medium of paint, however, Emin’s colour bands bleed across the picture plane in a manner almost reminiscent of Rothko.

INSTALLATION AND PERFORMANCE
The story of the work’s creation bears witness to the visionary nature of Emin’s early practice. It followed a prolonged period of artistic self-doubt brought about by her first abortion in May 1990. Looking back on this time, Emin recalls how ‘I gave up painting, I gave up art, I gave up believing, I gave up faith’ (T. Emin, ‘How it Feels’, 1996, in C. Freedman (ed.), Tracey Emin: Works 1963-2006, New York 2006, p. 67). Prior to her arrival in Stockholm, the ‘last painting’ Emin had made was an attempted version of The Deposition of Christ. ‘That was the last time I tried to make a painting as I understood a proper painting was supposed to be’, she recalls. ‘I painted it in 1990 after the Royal College when I had a small studio in Elephant and Castle. I went there every day and tried to be an artist, but it just wasn’t working’ (T. Emin, quoted in C. Freedman (ed.), Tracey Emin: Works 1963-2006, New York 2006, p. 255). By 1996, Emin’s blankets, sculptures and prints had attracted significant international attention, yet she was still unable to overcome her feelings towards painting. ‘I was possessed by fear and a feeling of guilt and loathing’, Emin explains. ‘I was still afraid of painting and that was tied to a fear of failure. I’d got to a certain point with my art where it was just becoming acceptable. Everything was going quite well except there were certain things that were blocked in terms of creativity. I wanted to break through that barrier’ (T. Emin, quoted in C. Freedman (ed.), Tracey Emin: Works 1963-2006, New York 2006, p. 255).

Emin’s fear of painting was amplified by a number of personal anxieties that she sought to address in her installation. As she later explained, ‘My Nan had just died as well, so I was very upset and I needed to sort out my head. I was afraid of the dark and I also detested my body, so there were quite a few things that I wanted to get out of the way’ (T. Emin, quoted in J. Wainwright, ‘Interview with Tracey Emin’, in M. Merck and C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 198). Within the secluded gallery space, isolated from everything except herself and her art, Emin had time to reflect. In choosing Sweden, rather than London or New York, the artist sought to avoid the sensationalism of the press. Her nudity was not an act of exhibitionism but rather an attempt to reconnect with her own physicality: a connection essential to the act of painting and drawing. All the paraphernalia of the outside world were removed: Emin lived alongside her ongoing work with little more than a bed, a radio, a kettle and a clothes line upon which, in the manner of Percy Shelley – whose work she had been reading – she hung out her stockings. Emin recalls ‘There was nothing but me filling the whole room’ (T. Emin, quoted in C. Freedman (ed.), Tracey Emin: Works 1963-2006, New York 2006, p. 255).

In charting Emin’s legendary breakthrough, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made represents not only a reconciliation with painting, but a fundamental reclaiming of the female nude. Over the course of her installation, Emin played the roles of both artist and model, capturing her own body in paint and on paper, and documenting this process in the photographic series Life Model Goes Mad. Blurring the boundary between subject and agent, Emin subverts the traditional associations between life drawing and the dominance of the masculine gaze. Unlike Yoko Ono’s performance work Cut Piece (1964), to which the installation is frequently compared, Emin’s role was active, not passive: whilst Ono invited viewers to cut pieces of fabric away from her clothed body, Emin was consciously and deliberately naked. ‘Many artists have used female nudes in their work. I’ve got a good female nude I can use whenever I like and its mine’, Emin explained. ‘I’m my own muse. And it’s so liberating to be naked. You have a better sense of your own being’ (T. Emin, quoted in C. Freedman (ed.), Tracey Emin: Works 1963-2006, New York 2006, p. 166). Yet Emin was not simply modeling her body; rather, she was laying bare the very essence of her artistic being, from her influences to her methods to her own physical form. As the artist explains, ‘It was about being stripped and it could have been about being vulnerable but actually it wasn’t, it became about the ego and about the strength of the ego. The strength of my failures are all amalgamated together’ (T. Emin, quoted in J. Wainwright, ‘Interview with Tracey Emin’, in M. Merck and C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 198). In this regard, Emin’s nudes speak not simply of the corpulence of the human form, but of a re-empowering of the artist’s own body as a source of creativity.

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