No one could ever accuse Tracey Emin of resting on her laurels. Hot on the heels of unveiling new work at Lehmann Maupin in Hong Kong, the artist has followed that effort up with ‘Stone Love’ at the gallery’s New York space – a presentation of more new paintings, works on paper and neons, along with captivating embroidered works and a series of provocative bronze sculptures. The exhibtion is confirmed as her last before a year’s break.
Although a range of different media is on display, Emin’s subject matter is very much a continuation of her personal narratives and self-reflection. Large embroidered pieces depict the human figure (hers) in various states of repose. The figures presented are less idealised and more astutely represented, revealing a rounder form and even rolls of flesh depicted in a flurry of black threads on calico.
‘I’ve always been a figurative artist,’ she explains. ‘In the 1990s, I used the figure but with words. It’s like I just took the figure out of everything. Like the bed for example – it’s really figurative, except that the figure has got up and walked out of the bed. I was always drawing but the drawings were like a diary at the time.’
Small-scale bronze works, which are intentionally abstracted and primitively formed, are treated as three-dimensional iterations of her drawings, which are also present in different scales around the gallery. ‘I just want to be more hands on with everything. I want to be in control,’ Emin reiterates. ‘I want it to be me, so even if I make mistakes, they’re my mistakes. When I die, I want people to know that "she touched that". That’s really important to me.’
The title of the show riffs on David Bowie’s song Soul Love and explores the different notions of love, which Emin had considered well before Bowie’s death. ‘[It] is about love and the reflection of love; the desire to melt into the image of someone else, the fantasy of love,’ she says. ‘I’d rather keep that love sustained. For example, being in love with a stone is fine. It’s beautiful, it’s monumental, it’s dignified. It will never ever let me down. It’s a metaphor for what I prefer to live with.’
As for her much discussed sabbatical, Emin responds to the sceptics, ‘The reason why I’m having a year off is not to stop making art, it’s so I can make art. It’s all the other things that interfere with my process and what I want to do. I want to wake up everyday, think about art and make art. I don’t want to have an opening or do an interview, or any charity work, or sign off on anything. I just want to make the work.’