Thursday, 21 June 2012

Tracey Emin: She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea - Turner Contemporary, Margate

Recently I spent the morning at the Turner Contemporary, Margate. I wanted to see the new Tracey Emin exhibit, "She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea." I feel that it is important to visit galleries and see exhibitions even though they may not be photography related. Living in Kent it is fairly easy to travel to London and also the other outlying galleries like the Turner, the De La Warr and the new Jerwood at Hastings.

I have not studied art outside of the photography course modules so come to drawing, painting, sculpture and textiles with little knowledge of the techniques involved or the weight of art history behind them. My first impression of Emin's paintings is that they appeared to done with a free flowing style. The brush strokes were broad and just a few of them was all that was needed to produce an interesting female nude figure. I think that all the figures are self-portraits and the opening statement at the exhibition talked about a time of crisis in Emin's life (the impending death of her father) and how the weight of that knowledge affected her. I much preferred the nudes and simple shapes to the room interiors. Personally, I felt the simple style did not lend itself to the more complicated interior drawings and I found them hard to interpret.

Virtually all of the paintings use the same colour blue and they look fresh and dynamic on the clean white gallery walls. Some of the smaller images are grouped and others set in rows or large ones placed higher on the wall. Text is also frequently used in the drawings too. Sometimes the text is in direct contrast to the vibrant and dynamic images - at least that is how they seemed to me. "I Didn't Say I Couldn't Love You" for an example.

As well as paintings Emin has created textiles for the exhibition. I was very impressed with three large tapestries in one of the rooms. Again, they depicted reclining nudes and woven with a very effective colour set using rose, reds, greens, grey and black. This use of different media reminded me of the installations of Wolfgang Tillmans that I have read about recently. There was also a few bronze sculptures and a trademark stained mattress with a bronze branch placed in the centre. The branch with its curving forms reminded me of a sleeping figure embraced by the mattress - stained with the everyday marks of a life lived.

In one corner a small photographic print showing a lake at Emins home in Italy that dries up in the summer. The print was quite small and looked to be taken with film. It certainly had a feel of a polaroid or slightly underexposed image with slightly blurred greens and browns. To me the sculptures and print set a more sombre tone against the blue paintings.

In one of the rooms some Turner and Rodin nude drawings were hung to provide a reference to the tradition of nude figure painting in art history. It appeared to my untrained eye that they were similar in style although of course, they were painted by men looking at models, and not self portraits like Emin's work.

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