You are inches from Tracey Emin’s face. You’re right there on the pillow next to her, watching her desperately wait for sleep to finally come. Emin suffers from insomnia, and takes selfies as she helplessly wrestles with it. She’s printed them two metres high and pasted them across the walls here. On the one hand, they’re terrifying, ridiculous, even a little stupid. But on the other, they’re… really good. They tower over you, suffocating you in their bleary, angry, frustrated misery. It feels like she’s collapsing with exhaustion around you. It just hits you so hard.
It’s classic Emin. An everyday struggle laid utterly bare. It so perfectly expresses pain; so simply, directly and effectively.
It’s a ballsy, explosive start to this sweeping, ambitious show, the rest of which is made up of paintings, drawings, sculptures and a neon. In each work, you feel the throbbing pulse of anguish and sorrow; the never-ending misery of loving, living and feeling.
Two huge bronze women dominate the galleries, but they’re the worst things here. Destined for a bank HQ’s lobby. The paintings are the real stars. Emin frantically traces lines of pinks, blacks and blood reds. In almost every work you see a nude female figure, either reclining, sleeping, bleeding or wanking. In some, the lines are minimal and stark, in others there’s a screaming messy chaos of scribbles. Emin is a genuinely good drawer, and has become a really good painter too. The forms are purposeful, distinct, and the emotions and intensions are clear. There are nods to Picasso’s post-cubist portraits, Baselitz’s colours and Bacon’s split compositions – they’re clever works.
The drawings drag you deeper into the personal. ‘You left me so alone’, says one, ‘living without love’, says another, all scrawled over quick, brash nudes.
Throughout this show, Emin brilliantly takes the misery we all experience from time to time and condenses it into little atomic bombs of aesthetic urgency. It’s overwrought, over-intense, and over the top, but that’s why it’s so good. Whatever you think about Emin, it’s a cold, cynical person who can walk away from this show without having their heartstrings snapped in half.