November 9, 2020
As she recovers from a brutal summer of cancer treatment, Tracey Emin takes us round her new show – and imagines spending the next 30 years painting in her pyjamas to the sound of birdsong
‘I am so lucky,” says Tracey Emin as we stand in the grand galleries of the Royal Academy. I can tell, from her brown eyes, that she’s smiling beneath her face mask. As we roam rooms painted moody blue for her new exhibition, in which her paintings, bronzes and neons are juxtaposed with the oils and watercolours of Edvard Munch, Emin adjusts her stoma bag occasionally and laughs a lot. “I’m in love with Munch,” she says. “Not with the art, but with the man. I have been since I was 18.”
This is not what I expected. Minutes earlier, walking through this London gallery’s courtyard, I felt darkness descending everywhere. England was re-entering lockdown, Biden hadn’t yet won Michigan and the last visitors to the Royal Academy for a month were heading out into the night. I expected the 57-year-old artist to be at death’s door, defeated by disease and circumstance. She is, after all, putting on an exhibition hardly anyone will see: “They sold 16,000 advance tickets but when Boris announced the second lockdown, we knew we couldn’t open.” All she can hope is that the gallery will open in December, but that is uncertain.