Sunday, 27 May 2012

Tracey Emin exhibition at The Turner Contemporary Margate, first impressions and pictures from my sketchpad today.

The picture above is the last one I drew today, I sketched it and watercoloured it sitting on a towel, on Ramsgate Sands, I wouldn’t have thought this possible and the reason I even tried at all is to do with Turner’s sketchbooks.

I know the camera never lies and all that, but the colour of the sky in the painting is much closer, blue getting more ochreish (browny yellow) towards the horizon in the painting than the photo. The irony is that I used the same camera to photograph the painting as I did to photograph the sky. 

I took a couple of photos showing the place and equipment, because if anyone had said to me that they had managed a watercolour, sitting on a towel on sand while their children played in the sea, I don’t think I would have believed them. 

The pictures in this post will probably enlarge if you click on them compulsively, the one above, the first one I did when I got to Margate at about 9 this morning was done sitting on the steps of the Droit House, I was sleepy, so you can either describe it as not very good or dreamy.

You will have to give me time here as I am trying to find the right words to describe the exhibition in the gallery and at 9 this morning it hadn’t opened.  

I then went to the café in the shed like structure in the old town and got a cup of tea, half pint mug 60p and sat outside sketching the picture above, while I waited for the gallery to open.

There are two pictures in the exhibition that could be described as erotic, both by Turner, one is already on another blog of mine and I will add the other one later.  

Turners sketchbooks are available to view on The Tate Gallery website, this link takes you to one of them  you can turn the pages if you fiddle about there.

The link should open on one of the erotic sketches that is displayed in The Turner Contemporary, his sketch book is open in a case on this page, the main thing that strikes one about Turners sketchbooks is how small some of them are.

I use a sketchbook which is 270x195mm, they are £2.99 from The Works in Ramsgate Garden Centre, the one with the elastic band built in 150gsm  paper, the other ones they sell have paper too thin for watercolour, or are bumpy and especially made for watercolour and unsuitable for carrying around.   

Some of the Rodin sketches are very good one reminded me of Matisse, apart from one wall which has the Rodins’ and the Turners’ on it the rest of the upstairs galleries are all Tracey Emin’s work. 

Drawing and painting is very difficult as soon as one takes it out of the private sketchbook and either does it in public or displays it in public, immediately the question that inevitably arrives, like the square root on minus one in the back on ones mind, is, is it any good? 

Personally I would have left most of Emin’s sketches in the sketchbook and for me there is a sense of tentatively displaying something not intended for display about her work. This aspect of the exhibition works for me from the point of view of my own art.  

   Immediately after viewing the exhibition I walked down the harbour arm to The Puffin Café, £1.20 for a large and very civilised pot of tea, and drew the sketch above.  

Next come some of Tracey's exhibits on display at this exhibition:
Tracey Emin, She Lay down Deep Beneath The Sea 2012, Neon © the artist courtesy White Cube photo Ben Westoby

Tracey Emin, Sex 1 25-11-07 Sydney ©Tracey Emin / Tracey Emin studio

Tracey Emin Last in Love 2011Gouache on paper © the artist courtesy of White Cube photo Ben Westoby

Tracey Emin, Laying on Blue 2011 Gouache on paper © the artist courtesy of White Cube photo Ben Westoby

Tracey Emin Furniture 2011 Gouache on paper © the artist courtesy of White Cube photo Ben Westoby

I haven’t entirely made up my mind about the exhibition, I wasn’t that impressed by Tracey Emin’s pictures, but the acid test of any exhibition for me is do I need to paint and draw after seeing it.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it is certainly a great deal more unforgiving than the pencil and everything I drew today after seeing the exhibition was with India Ink, which doesn’t rub out at all. Of course you can cheat and draw in ink over pencil and then rub out the pencil, but I didn’t do this as I suppose you can see from this sketch done while the children were eating their lunch ant the cake on Ramsgate Sands.

Obviously I don’t usually publish everything in my sketch book from that day so far when I write a blog, I think I would bore everyone rigid, but it seemed to help me put this post together.  

I think the main problem with the exhibition is it just isn’t dense enough, there isn’t enough there that is different to engage your attention for long enough.

Spreading mostly small and tentative works through such a large space, with some very large areas of blank wall I don’t think is going to be enough of a draw for the next few months.

I guess it could do with some installation art, films or something, like the youth exhibition had. Many of the pictures are similar, there is a whole series in blue gouache that I think are supposed to be onanistic, possibly erotic although not to me, they could just as well be about difficulties inserting tampons or diaphragms.

And no I am not slating Emin’s work here, it is tentative and indistinct probably deliberately, I think this is about the way the exhibition is presented, it has an air of the artist having had far to much say in the hanging and selection of what is in the whole of the upstairs part of the gallery.

Perhaps there are some artists who should hang their own works, I don’t really know, but think in most cases the hanging of exhibitions requires expertise that most artists don’t possess.

The thing is the like her work or hate her work Emin is Emin and so up to a point you know what to expect, but there is a sense here of too much dilution of the dilation.  

I guess I came away feeling disappointed with the overall exhibition and although I am not very keen on Tracey Emin’s work I also know that a lot of stress goes into a public art exhibition so I partly didn’t want to blame this disappointment on her.  Having given it some thought I am coming to the conclusion that the disappointment is not entirely her fault, but of course I will visit the exhibition several more times and my thoughts may change.

But allthatsaid it did pass my personal acid test, I did come out of the exhibition wanting to pint and draw.   

If you haven’t already click on the link and work your way through all 109 pages of Turner’s sketchbook, there are a few blank pages to pass through and not all of the pictures are good pictures  

Oh nearly forgot, for those of you who can’t get around Thanet for one reason or another, the unedited contents of my camera card

And I think these were mostly Friday playing with the camera in the dark.


  1. I prefer your pics to Tracey's!

    1. That Christine may well be because you haven’t been a victim of any of my pictures, if you Google “Tracey Emin portrait” you will note that Tracey has.

  2. Me too Christine. Is that love heart for real. I think it is a case of the emperors new clothes. . .


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