A Thousand Drawings By Tracey Emin

It is perhaps fair to say that Tracey Emin isn’t exactly known for her technical skill as an artist.

Type ‘Tracey Emin dr…’ into Google and drawing makes a narrow victory over the next most popular option ‘Tracey Emin drunk‘.

Emin was one of the young artists emerging in the late eighties and who was lead by the press to be something of a poster girl for the Young British Artists phenomenon at the time. She is infamous for her shocking works such as ‘My Bed’ and ‘‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’.

This history fuelled some of the disgruntled reaction to the news in 2011 that she was being appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal College, one of the most prestigious art institutions in the UK and for one of the most classical art forms. The initial response ranged from disquietude to disbelief, but soon settled to curiosity as the world watched to see how one of art’s rebels could take up such a different challenge.


Emin is certainly one of the characters of contemporary art, who exists in popular culture more as a figure for her antics than her art. But, wrongly so.

Emin’s retort to critics came in the form of her recent collection One Thousand Drawings. The book is  composed of 1,000 images drawn over the period between roughly 1988 and 2008. This selection of 1,000 was made from an initial mammoth 7,000 and comprises drawings scrawled on envelopes, menus, letters.

Emin redesigns the iconic London tube map for the 2012 Olympics

Emin redesigns the iconic London tube map for the 2012 Olympics

The Telegraph’s chief art critic Richard Dormant declared, “she can draw like an angel, albeit one with a bad hangover”.

Each drawing seems to take its subject seriously, without taking itself very seriously at all.

The speed of her drawing process and the impulsive sincerity of it is reflected in her choice of surfaces. A takeaway menu is as equally a valid canvass for Emin as anything else. No envelop or post-it is safe.



Painter Anthony Green, who backed Emin’s election to the academy, said: ‘She draws at the speed of thought, which is a very rare ability’.

This speed is obvious in her work. Rather than labours of love, prophetic visions and revisions, the process seems more like that of a seance. Words and  movements trip out onto the page through involuntary movements and everyone around the table is both horrified and curious in equal measure to know where it all came from. It has all the flippancy of thoughts mumbled by a sleep talker, but all the sincerity too.



The question ‘can Tracey Emin draw?’ is perhaps too easily asked in the media. She has long been used by the media for their own purposes as a stock character, a kind of art celebrity that they have contrived themselves for the purposes of cultural commentary.

I would argue that the question is not a complete one. Rather than asking, ‘can Tracey Emin draw?’, if we ask ourselves; can she draw with originality, range and a captivating sincerity? The answer is certainly yes, yes, yes to all of those.