Emin's new bronzes, paintings, embroidery and neon works focus on the period of contemplation during the creation of work
You’d never describe Tracey Emin, the soul-baring queen of TMI, as playing hard to get, but this could be her most opaque work yet. Ambiguity is there from the off, in a series of drawings running down one side of White Cube’s seemingly endless entrance hall. The nudes are immediately Emin-esque, but gone is the scratchy, monoprint style of old. Instead we see fluid arcs of blue gouache paint. Emin recently returned to life drawing classes, and it shows in self-assured pictures that appear at odds with familiarly angsty titles such as ‘Crying’ and ‘I Wanted You Too Much’. Perhaps mindful of what she’s famous for, Emin has called one of them ‘Too Relaxed’.
Many artists succumb to the pressure to scale up in this hangar. But apart from a gallery of large embroideries in which female figures are picked out in spidery black thread, Emin has resisted the urge. There are acres of white space punctuated by tiny paintings and bronzes. Ever the consummate storyteller, Emin draws you in, but the pay-off is materially expressive rather than emotional – full of textures, not tortured tales.
Paintings reveal the toil of previous attempts. Sometimes lovers and mountains (Emin confesses to being a Mills and Boon romantic) have been partially obliterated to reveal a single figure. The feeling is of someone emerging from a tryst, or casting off their former self – battered but triumphant. By contrast, a trio of tiny sex paintings portray lovemaking as if it’s an unwanted blurring of identity.
There are overbaked religious references, including crucifixions and a table (long enough for a Last Supper) that’s bookended by sculptures 'The Lamb' and 'Lion Love'. But other bronzes of bent and broken figures possess the searching quality of her most successful drawings.
Separating Emin the artist from Emin the star is tough, but spend time in this show and the former shines through. You believe her when she says it’s all about the work. It feels switched-on, newly ambitious and challenging. An adventure worth embarking on – and following.