Tracey Emin by Tracey Emin

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As her major solo exhibition opens, Tracey Emin creates an original artwork and a verbal self-portrait especially for Stylist

As the woman who exposed her used bed sheets to the nation, Tracey Emin has never been shy of laying her life bare. Her vulnerability has been key to her success, pouring out her pain from heartbreak, two abortions and a difficult childhood during which she was raped into her intimate nude watercolours, shocking neons and emotionally charged appliqué blankets. Her private life, too, has often caused a furore, aided in no small part by some ‘scandalous’ indiscretions and an alcohol-fuelled rant live on Channel 4 in 1997.

Bizarrely, for someone we seem to know so much about, there remains something forever enigmatic about the former Young British Artist. Which is why, three days ahead of her major new solo exhibition at the Turner Contemporary in her hometown of Margate, we asked the cultural icon to create an exclusive piece of art just for the cover of this week’s Stylist – our brief: a self-portrait

Last week, three original pieces arrived at Stylist’s office, our favourite of which is on this week’s cover of Stylist (and right). We also asked Tracey to share her most intimate thoughts with us – to pen her own self-portrait. Here are her incredibly honest thoughts on life.

As a child I was sad a lot of the time. My fondest memory is giggling with friends so much that I couldn’t stop crying.

The film I’ve watched the most is Contempt by Jean-Luc Godard.

I am not jealous of anybody. The only time I’ve ever been jealous is when someone has tried to sleep with my boyfriend. But now I don’t have boyfriends.

I believe that people’s success is fantastic. I love the Midas touch.

The last time I cried was this morning, when I felt very alone.

My worst memory is coming round after my abortion and wondering whether I had done the right thing.

If I could change one thing about my personality, it would be that I didn’t drink. But I’m really happy that I stopped smoking.

I first knew I wanted to be an artist in 1997, at my opening at the South London gallery. I thought: ‘This is how it should be’. The nicest thing anyone has ever said to me is that I’m kind.

The crappest thing anyone has ever said to me was when I was pregnant in 1990: My boyfriend patted me on the stomach and said, “Hello. We’re going to kill you.”

Margate is a place I visit in my memory and in my dreams.

To me, the word ‘feminist’ means that we have all got to work a lot harder.

The last time I felt truly happy was looking at marble in Italy with a friend.

In 10 years’ time, I’d like to be a) alive and b) much physically and mentally stronger to be able to cope with old age.

My favourite meal of the day is breakfast. I have porridge with water, a spoon of jam and soya milk.

When I was younger, I never thought I’d be alone at 48. But I also never thought I’d be this successful.

My favourite night in is in my bedroom, in clean pyjamas with clean sheets, watching CSI back to back with my cat Docket curled up beside me.

The next time I vote it will be for a Royal Academician.

The person who always sorts me out is Sandra Esquilant, the landlady at The Golden Heart.

ABOVE: Tracey's exclusive artwork for Stylist.

My simplest pleasure is brushing my teeth and using mouthwash.

There are all different kinds of love but my first real love was Billy Childish and we’re still friends.

I make a point of trying to be friends with everyone I’ve loved.

Getting old is really depressing.

The biggest misconception about me is that I’m uncouth.

Britain would be a much better place if we could get rid of apathy.

I first realised what grief was when my uncle Colin died and I saw the devastating effects it had on my mum and my nan. My nan said to me, “In this world you know that your parents are going to die and your husband is going to die but you never expect your child to die before you.”

The biggest argument I have about politics is that I live in a democracy and I’m allowed to vote for whoever I want.

The criteria for including pieces in my show is that they have to excite me and make me feel alive.

The most shocking piece of art I’ve ever seen is Austrian performance artist Otto Muehl, when he ripped the head off a chicken.

The piece of art I’d most like to own is a painting by Vermeer called The Love Letter.

I couldn’t get through the day without Natasha, my secretary.

The biggest argument I have with people about art is that it’s really important. Society can’t live or cope without it.

When I look in the mirror, I often see something I don’t like and it’s a terrible affliction. I’ve rarely in my life looked in the mirror and liked my own image.

The biggest influence on the way I dress is Vivienne Westwood, because I love her fabrics and the fact that they are so feminine and sexy.

I’ve never watched anything where I’ve laughed out loud but David Tang’s column in the Financial Times last month where he wrote about ‘saloon’ and ‘salon’ was really funny.

On my bedside table, you’ll currently find Jeanette Winterson’s book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? and a biography about Daphne du Maurier. Two bedside lamps because I need a lot of light to read, my reading glasses, a jug of water and a small whimsy cat that belonged to my friend’s mother. A box of tissues because I cry a lot. But on my bed you’ll find my iPad – because I do lots of drawings on it at night and send emails – TV controls, my phone and a few more books.

The person I spend most time with is my friend Scott Lyon-Wall from New York. We travel around the world together looking at art.

The strangest thing in my handbag right now is a tiny bronze sculpture of Docket, which I picked up from The Foundry in New York yesterday.

To me, depression means more sadness, trapped, a spiralling out of control, a Catch 22 situation that I hate.

I’ve never had a crush on a famous person.

If I could only be remembered for one piece of work, I’d like it to be my writing.

I know I’ve created something pretty special when it feels better than sex.

The most recent piece of art I bought is a sculpture by Klara Kristalova called Slow Silent Song.

My earliest memory of feeling angry was when my mum and dad were arguing and I stuck a bamboo stick through my thigh.

I don’t really lie but I’m always late and have to try and sort of muscle my way through it.

I have a recurring dream about being in a giant tidal wave. And when I say giant I mean 200 feet high. To escape from it all I swim.

I would like to say sorry to my dad, for not helping him more with what he wanted before he died. I can’t believe how stupid I was not to do what he asked me to do.

The works from my new show which most changed my life are the bronze sculptures. I’m so excited I’ve started something new that I want to work on and I can be physical with my hands. Touching things, feeling things.

If art vanished from the world, my plan B would be… death.

She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, 26 May-23 September; free admission;

See Tracey Emin's other artwork created for our Nigella issue

See Tracey's most iconic art


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Stylist Team