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‘Before cancer I was really unhappy’: Tracey Emin on the joy of founding her own art school

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It’s a Saturday morning and the band of the 1st Margate Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade is marching down a side street with pipes and drums ringing out amid a crowd that includes luminaries of the art world, Bob Geldof, and the kids across the road who are still in their pyjamas. Then the town’s Social Singing Choir launches into a version of Madonna’s Like a Prayer that is so lovely people cry. Tracey Emin, too, seems to wipe away a tear as she waits in her tricorn hat and red robe – the official costume of a Freewoman of Margate – to cut the red ribbon and officially open her new art school.

This delightful public performance is an Emin artwork, but not as we know it. Emin’s subject matter until now had always been herself. “That woman knows herself,” as Lucian Freud said approvingly. But this ceremony is about her embrace of other people. It’s about the community she is setting out to create.

Emin announced early last year that she was going to open her own art school in Margate, the Kent seaside town where she’s from. Just 15 months later, she is opening the building that houses TEAR (Tracey Emin Artist Residencies), where the first year’s intake of 10 young artists from around the world are already settling in. It also provides affordable work spaces for professional artists, called Tracey Emin Studios.

Emin in front of the former bathhouse in Margate that is now home to TEAR (Tracey Emin Artist Residencies).

“I think being an artist is quite lonely”, she tells me a couple of days ahead of the grand opening, settling into the comfy sofa in the common room of her school. “And I don’t have any children. All of these things that other people seem to acquire in life, I don’t have. And when I thought I might die, I thought ‘Fuck, what have I been doing with my life?’ And then I thought: ‘Well, if I get through this, I’m going to do something. I’m going to change things.’”

Emin is now a good halfway, she tells me, to getting the all-clear from the cancer with which she was diagnosed in 2020. “The cancer was really bad, right: there was a good chance I wasn’t going to get through it. And it’s a bit like a promise to myself: ‘What do I need it all for? You cannot take it to heaven, right, you can’t – it’s impossible.’”

We’re sitting inside the promise Emin made to herself. This building, not far from her home, was built as a public baths in the early 20th century: the restored facade has separate entrances marked Men and Women. Now it has become Emin’s idea of an artist community – a place where students and professional artists can encourage and support each other.

Emin – in her Freewoman of Margate robes – cuts the ribbon on opening day.

“They’re quite brave to come and do it. I mean wow! To Margate. Emmie Nume, for example, who’s never left Uganda before, suddenly arrives here: it’s raining and freezing cold. It was quite a shock to the system. Every week they get two projects they have to do. Already they’ve made a film and they’ve written an essay on Cézanne. They also have to write a poem to read out every Monday.”

I meet the students in their individual work spaces. Nume, from Kampala, is self-taught and paints abstracted portraits with an Auerbach-like intensity. Jorge K Cruz, born in Ecuador and living in Brooklyn, also a painter with no formal training, has pinned up his excellent drawing after Freud’s And the Bridegroom. Bianca Raffaella, a partially sighted painter, is working close up on a painting to add to the ethereally beautiful works covering her walls and floor.

You don’t have to be a painter to study here. Grace Abbott from Brooklyn prefers installation, performance and sculpture. The school is “proper”, says Emin with pride: it has experienced art educator Elissa Cray as director.

“I don’t think they’ve got anything in common,” Emin says of her charges. “That’s one thing I like. They all seemed from their interviews and their work to be able to work alone: two of them have never been to art school for example. But they had to be of postgraduate level even if they hadn’t done a postgraduate course. We asked questions like, ‘What was the last exhibition you saw? Who’s your favourite artist? What book are you reading at the moment?’ And if they didn’t have the answers, then obviously I thought they’re not going to be the right people. If people aren’t willing to educate themselves, what would be the point of them being here?”

It’s the one little flash of Emin’s more acerbic side. But the atmosphere is very happy. The artist Lindsey Mendick, who rents one of the studios, makes me hold a fake arm bone as we look over the multicoloured skulls and maggots that have emerged from her kiln.

‘Quite brave’ … Emmie Nume at work on his Auerbach-like portraits.

“Lindsey and the other artists, we all get on really well,” says Emin. “But they’re all so much younger than me. You know, sometimes I have to go, ‘Fucking hell, no, I’m not doing karaoke.’”

Emin’s institution is her idea of an artist community. Reeling off Margate’s glorious artistic past, she points out that, as well as Turner painting the sea here and Sickert teaching local art classes, Van Gogh walked through when he was a teacher in nearby Ramsgate. Emin’s Studios and Residencies are her answer to Van Gogh’s creative commune, The Yellow House – an ideal of shared artistic living.

“It’s a beautiful way to live and I want to have a beautiful life. And this is so lovely: come here, talk to artists, look at art. Go home, see my cats, paint my pictures. Go to the sea, go for a swim in the ice cold water, come back, dry myself, walk here, look at somebody’s pictures, talk to them about what they’re doing.”

But what makes Emin’s art school different? While TEAR teaches all kinds of art, it places the portrayal of the human figure at the heart of what art is. The corridors are covered with nude drawings the pupils made at the school’s first life class. Emin believes passionately in drawing a naked model. She’s already led her first life class here, and shows me the sensual drawings she did in it.

‘Ethereally beautiful work’ … partially sighted artist Bianca Raffaella at TEAR.

“There are 20 of us all doing life drawing in the big room upstairs. We had people who just make film or sculpture who were a little bit grumpy about it at first, but then once they got going they were like, ‘Wow, I haven’t done this for 10 years’. It was really lovely and the model was brilliant. It’s about confidence with drawing. It’s like swimming – once you get going, you can really enjoy it: you enjoy looking, you enjoy seeing, and you enjoy slowing down because you’re seeing in a different way. And then after that drawing class, you see everything differently.”

At her own studio a short walk away, Emin has been painting some truly stonking nudes. Her latest paintings are almost mural-scale. I flail to find the words to describe a grand nude whose flesh is subtly coloured in a soft pinky-white.

“The tits are really good,” says Emin.

Seeing how strong her new work is – more energetic than ever, despite her physical challenges – makes me wonder why she wants to teach. Why take on the responsibility of nurturing young artists when she could be in her studio working on her masterpieces?

“Before the cancer I was really unhappy” she says. “I didn’t have anything to lose, did I? So it had to get better. It couldn’t get worse. One good thing that cancer does: when you get through the other side you really appreciate life. You see the whole world differently, and it’s a kind of gift. It sounds corny but it is like being born again really, because you go ‘Whoa, that was dark.’”

After trying the high life with the one per cent, she is finally finding happiness in sharing ordinary stuff. “Like when I bought this furniture, it was so much fun. So much pleasure from just getting an old three-piece suite.

Tracey Emin in her studio.

“Most people in life don’t have a choice, they haven’t had it all, they don’t know what it’s like to prance around in the south of France with a Rolex on. Well I’ve done it all, I could do it a million times over, but that isn’t what makes me happy. It isn’t and it never will be.”

The truth, I realise, is that Emin’s altruism and generosity are feeding her creativity. It’s a wonderful reversal of the cliche that great artists have to be selfish. Turner put his mum in Bedlam. Van Gogh’s Yellow House ended with him and Gauguin at daggers drawn. But the more she puts into Margate, the more it gives her back.

“It’s really lovely,” she concludes. “I’m going to get old with this. It’s so much more positive than thinking I’m going to get old and miserable and lonely on my own. I’m not! I’m not! I’m not!”

 

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Home + Away artwork opens in Vancouver’s Hastings Park

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A new art installation now towers over Vancouver’s Hastings Park fields in celebration of the city’s history of spectators and sports.

Home + Away is a sculpture by Seattle artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio, which opened Monday in the southeast end of the historic park.

It’s a 17-metre-tall structure that resembles a narrow set of bleachers — similar to the stands of the Empire Stadium, which stood on the site of the park from 1954 to 1993 and hosted The Beatles, among many others. It recalls a covered ski jump that stood there in the 1950s and the nearby wooden rollercoaster at the PNE.

The city says the public is invited to walk the stairs and sit on the benches.

“In addition to being visually striking, this artwork is intended to be ascended, sat on and experienced. It offers exciting experiences of height and views and provides 16 rows of seating for up to 49 people, making for a unique spectator experience when watching events at Empire Fields,” the city said in a release Monday.

The idea for the park to include public art was outlined in the Hastings Park “Master Plan,” first adopted by the city in 2010. The city says Han and Mihalyo first presented their design in 2015.

“It’s wonderful to see this piece realized within the context of such a well-used public space,” said Han.

Home + Away was inspired directly by the site history of spectatorship, and we hope it will connect Hastings Park users to that history and the majestic views of the environment for many decades to come,” added Mihalyo.

The artwork features a large light-up sign, in the style of a sports scoreboard, that reads “HOME” and “AWAY.”

 

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Bill Viola, Video Artist Who Established the Medium as an Integral Part of Contemporary Art, Dies at 73

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Bill Viola, whose decades-long engagement with video proved vital in establishing the medium as an integral part of contemporary art, died on July 12 at his home in Long Beach, California. He was at 73 years old. The cause was complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. The news of his passing was confirmed by James Cohan Gallery.

Viola’s works are centered around the idea of human consciousness and such fundamental experiences as birth, death, and spirituality. He delved into mystical traditions from Zen Buddhism to Islamic Sufism, as well as Western devotional art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in his videos, which often juxtaposed themes of life and death, light and dark, noise and silence. These explorations were achieved by submerging viewers in both image and sound with cutting-edge technologies for their time.

“I first used the camera and lens as a surrogate eye, to bring things closer, or to magnify them, to experiment with perception, to extend vision and make lengthy observations of simple objects,” Viola said in a 2015 interview. “Once you do that, their essence becomes visible. So I suppose I was always interested in the inner life of the world around me.”

Beginning in the 1970s, Viola created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast—all of which expanded the scope of the medium and established Viola as one of its most notable practitioner.

Video still of a man diving into water that has been reversed. The image is mostly black and teal.

In 2003 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Tate, London; and the Centre Pompidou in Paris jointly acquired Bill Viola’s 2001 three-channel video installation Five Angels for the Millennium.

Photo Kira Perov/©Bill Viola Studio

Bill Viola was born in 1951. He grew up in Queens and Westbury, New York, and attended P.S. 20 in Flushing, before receiving his BFA in experimental studios from Syracuse University in 1973. There, he studied with visual art with the likes of Jack Nelson and electronic music with Franklin Morris.

Following his graduation, between 1973 to 1980, Viola studied and performed with composer David Tudor in the music group Rainforest, which later became known as Composers Inside Electronics. He also worked as technical director at the pioneering video studio Art/tapes/22 in Florence, Italy from 1974 to 1976. During that time he encountered the work of other seminal video artists like Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci.

Viola was subsequently an artist-in-residence at New York’s WNET Thirteen Television Laboratory between 1976 to 1983, wherein he created a series of works that premiered on television. He traveled to the Solomon Islands, Java, and Indonesia to record traditional performing arts between 1976 and 1977. Later that year, Viola was invited to show work at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, by cultural arts director Kira Perov, with whom he married and began a lifelong collaboration.

He was appointed an instructor in advanced video at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California in 1983. He was the Getty Research Institute scholar-in-residence in Los Angeles in 1998 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.

In 1985, Viola received with a Guggenheim Fellowship for fine arts, and later that decade, in 1989, he was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. His work was also featured in some of the world’s most notable exhibitions, including Documenta VI in 1977, Documenta XI in 1992, the 1987 and 1993 editions of the Whitney Biennial, and the 2001 Venice Biennale.

In 1995, he represented the United States at the 46th edition of the Venice Biennale. For the pavilion, Viola produced the series of works “Buried Secrets,” including one of his most known works The Greeting, which offers a contemporary interpretation of Pontormo’s oil painting The Visitation (ca.1528–30). The Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and New York’s Guggenheim Museum commissioned the digital fresco cycle in high-definition video, titled Going Forth By Day, in 2002.

Viola’s work was the subject of a major 25-year survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997, which subsequently toured internationally. His work has been the subject of major museum retrospectives in the years since, including at the Grand Palais in Paris (in 2014), the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2017), the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain (2017), and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (2019), as well as an exhibition pairing his work with that of Michelangelo at the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2019.

Viola is survived by his wife Kira Perov, who has been the executive director of his studio since 1978, and their two children.

“One thing that’s very exciting about video that has turned me on since I first saw this glowing image way back in 1970 is that it can be so much,” Viola said in a 1995 with Charlie Rose on the occasion of this US Pavilion at the Biennale. “Furthermore, what’s really exciting is I don’t think it’s been since really the Renaissance where artists have been able to use a medium that one could say is the dominant communication form in society.”

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Couple’s winning art projects adorn overpass

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Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot are partners: in life, love, and art. Thanks to their creative pursuits, now they are also joined in the recognition of their work along the Lakeshore overpass.

The City of North Bay, in collaboration with the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC), recently held an event to acknowledge the successful applicants for the Lakeshore Drive overpass banner project. This initiative features 14 artworks created by local artists, highlighting the ongoing commitment to bringing public art to the community and celebrating local talent. The banners were installed early last week.

On behalf of PAAC, Katie Bevan noted that 71 submissions were received for the banner art project. “Selecting just 14 artworks from such outstanding submissions was no small feat. It truly highlights the incredible creativity within our community — and it’s only growing.”

Bevan acknowledged all who submitted their work and congratulated the 14 winners:

  • Caitlin Daniel
  • Corbin Elliot
  • Adam Fielder
  • Ian Gauthier
  • Ruby Grant
  • Annabelle Harvey
  • Penny Heather
  • Robert Johannsen
  • Robyn Jones
  • Gerry McComb
  • Victoria Primeau
  • Tessa Shank
  • Rana Thomas
  • Claudia Torres

“This is the first time I’ve participated in something city-wide, and I’ve been really interested in getting more involved in the art community,” said Harvey, a teacher by vocation when not helping to beautify North Bay. “I’ve worked a lot with the WKP Kennedy Gallery and I’ve been putting in submissions for some of their group shows. So, this is a cool opportunity to try something new. This is the first time I have done digital work. Usually, I like painting and collage. So I was interested just to try something new.”

In September 2023, public art gained more prominence in North Bay as 12 pieces by eight local artists selected by the Public Art Advisory Committee were placed on aluminum panels mounted onto the public buildings in both Champlain and Sunset parks.

Harvey’s partner Elliot is an emerging artist and a Fine Arts graduate from Nipissing University who says his passion for bringing his vision to life has only grown, thanks, in part, to these public art initiatives.

“There is so much opportunity to have a lot of different public art in different spaces,” he says. “So, when I saw that there was a variety of different artists and voices being accepted, of course, I wanted to have my vision out there in the city, to make my mark and be a part of that kind of trajectory of building the art scene within the city.”

The couple share a studio space, often working on separate projects at the same time while collaborating with encouragement and ideas.

“We are working on different mediums, a lot of the time,” Elliot said. “We have our own corners set up in the studio and I’ll usually be on my easel and Annabelle will be doing something…”

Harvey picked up his thought, “I’m usually at my desk doing pottery, jewellery, collage — I do a lot of different things.”

2024-07-12-lakeshore-overpass-banner-art-elliot-harvey-2-campaigne
Couple Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot each earned a spot among the 14 winning banner art projects. Stu Campaigne/BayToday

For Harvey, working so closely together is her “favourite part, especially watching his creative process.”

Elliot added, “I think I’m more non-verbal as I’m creating. I often hear you saying, ‘Oh, I think I like this.'”

Both have active Instagram pages featuring their artwork, Harvey’s can be found here, and Elliot’s here.

Elliot has a show at the WKP Kennedy Gallery, entitled “Upon a Star,” opening Sept. 13. “I’ll have my own solo exhibition. I typically work in painting. I have a big body of work with paintings,” he said.

The City of North Bay and PAAC encourage everyone to take a moment to appreciate these works of art when passing by the overpass.

Harvey and Elliot are thrilled about the banner art project.

“It’s like seeing your vision come to life. We’ve had lots of friends, even before we saw them today say excitedly, ‘I saw your work on the overpass,’ it’s just a proud moment to have so many eyes on our work.”

 

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