When Tracey was Traci: Emin’s unseen early paintings published for the first time

When Tracey was Traci: Emin’s unseen early paintings published for the first time

November 24, 2020

Her daring unmade bed won her notoriety – and star status among the Young British Artists. But a hoard of formative work reveals a very different talent

Before Tracey Emin, there was Traci Emin. That was how the young woman who would go on to be a star of conceptual art signed her name on a stark black-and-white woodcut poster back in 1986. It was for her degree show at Maidstone College of Art, where she earned a first in printmaking. It caught my eye a year ago while I was exploring her studio archive.

The woodcut – showing two desperate lovers clinging together in a dark night of the soul, the woman with an anchor tattoo – is part of a previously unseen hoard of Emin’s all but forgotten early work that reveals a different side of the artist from the one most people think they know. Much of it is lost and exists only as slides, the originals having been destroyed, she thinks, by a former boyfriend. They show the sincere and skilled artist Emin was before she became a household name and an infamous figure to many. When I saw these student works, I wanted to get them published so that everyone else could encounter that intense young soul. I was thrilled when she let me include them in a new visual book about her art.

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