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Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

Reflecting on Tracey Emin

Joanne Farley-Webb

[ Artist in Focus )

Gallery volunteer Joanne Farley-Webb reflects on the life and art of artist Tracey Emin.

A tribute to Liverpool’s famed Liver Bird, Roman Standard was Emin’s first public art project and is part of the Pallant House Gallery collection. She described the sculpture, often mistaken as a real bird, as a symbol of “hope, faith and spirituality” that acts as a point of contemplation. One small bird on an unreachable and untouchable tall pole somehow seems to speak even more loudly today given Emin’s current new perspective on her life.

Her sculpture can be found in the Pallant House Gallery courtyard garden where it forms a link between the stone ostriches that adorn the gateway to the original 18th-century townhouse. Blink too fast and you might miss it altogether.

“I wanted something that had a magic and an alchemy, something which would appear and disappear and not dominate.”


Tracey Emin, Roman Standard (Edition 2 of 6), 2005, Cast bronze on metal pole finished with silver nitrate Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Frank Dunphy and allocated to Pallant House Gallery, 2018) © The Artist Courtesy: Tracey Emin Studio Photo: Christopher Ison

Tracey Karima Emin CBE RA was born in 1963. Her middle name means royalty and generosity. She lives in the UK with her two beautiful cats Teapot and Pancake who take turns sleeping on her chest at night. The constant warmth and beating of their little hearts reassure her that she is needed and loved.

”I can feel sad, I can feel low, I can feel melancholy.. I feel in pain.. but these little animals never let me down. Life can change in the blink of an eye”.

Her raw battle with bladder cancer is being honestly and bravely shared online and it feels like there is a sense of impending urgency with her next show at the Carl Freedman Gallery titled ‘A Journey To Death’.

A couple of months ago when I was mindlessly chomping my way through social media posts the size of Mount Everest I came across a gaunt-looking selfie of Tracey in bed that made my heart stop. When I was an aspiring art student in London she was part of the emerging group of contemporary artists known as the Young British Artists (YBAs), including Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Gavin Turk. A group that rocked the British art scene with their hedonistic outspokenness and terrifyingly beautiful creative courage. Unbeknown to all of them they gave me a little hope that I might just make it too as a young artist and soon my empty fridge and ice on the inside of my bedsit window would be a thing of the past. Alas, our paths diverged.

Her work takes on many different forms of expression, including needlework, sculpture, photography, drawing, painting, video and installation but I wanted you to meet the Tracey Emin that you would only know if you followed and read her current Instagram posts. Uncensored and real I could not help but appreciate how rare it was to view an artist’s life online without a filter and want to share it with you in case it mysteriously disappears.

Her digital online diary shares the stark and sombre realities of bladder cancer, surgery, bloody swabs and dialogue that most people would tremble to share. She writes: ‘’Single older woman recovering from cancer, with disabilities .. including Urostomy bag and no vagina.. Seeks companion/lover’’.

She left home at 15, was homeless four times, and a KitKat with Charles Saatchi in 2000 changed her life forever and art is her salvation.

Over the years I have learned that creativity is a medicine, a powerful tool that can transform the way we navigate the world and when we integrate it into our lives a kind of alchemy happens.

All quotes belong to Tracey:

”It’s the thing that makes me feel strong .. Who I am .. What I am. Art has never let me down. Always there to save me, protect me, love me like a lover, who never lets me down … Thank you Art..”

”Being an artist is always about being yourself but not necessarily what others expect of you”

Often when talking about an artist and their art you might hear the phrase ‘’What was the artist trying to say’’ or ‘‘Was the artist trying to convey ‘this’ or ‘that’. What I love about Tracey is there is no subtext. A refreshing clear as a bell response that needs very little interpretation.


Reclined nude female figure in black and white

Tracey Emin, Move, 2016, Polymer gravure etching on Somerset 300gsm paper, The Golder – Thompson Gift (2018), © DACS/Tracey Emin, courtesy Tracey Emin Studio

”When I die this place can be a place for my work to be seen, how I want it to be seen…Maybe with my ashes .. a mausoleum.. A place I can visit every now and then from the other side..”

It’s difficult not to feel like your a voyeur and wonder if you should actually be witnessing this heartbreaking journey. I like many others return each day to see how she is feeling. As you read her posts you will also realise that there is an extraordinary connectedness as thousands upon thousands of complete strangers comment, send love, prayers and support.

”I’m scared from outside.. and in . Nothing will ever be or look or feel the same again .. broken and put back together again. Nothing quite fits’’

“My feet bleed like some sodden stigmata when I walk in shoes. Everything is telling me to stay home… My life is here .. where I make it”

Major art exhibitions often leave me feeling detached and removed from the artist themselves. It’s as though we are encountering empty objects, traces, relics or echoes. The spark and creative energy replaced with an odd and mysterious spaciousness.

Like tiny bright stars in a dark sky, the daily dose of dialogue opens a tiny portal as to the true metamorphosis of illness and anchors her work with words we can actually relate to.

‘’I made it when I was feeling really hurt and angry.. betrayed.. stabbed in the back .. rejected .. destroyed .. humiliated.. Then after I did this painting I felt a million times better.. because I knew what I felt was real and I knew I could express myself .. I am emotionally free.. The tiny canvas holds my pain.’’

”I don’t have a partner .. Husband, wife.. Or children. I only have my art. So I’m building a nest, a safe place, a home for it for long after I’m gone”

For me, that little bird on a pole high above the grime and the chaos is a bright and colourful songbird waiting for the dawn chorus, ready to sing in unison as the sun rises, and grateful to see another day.

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