Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999
Emin's monoprints have a diaristic aspect and frequently depict events from the past. Often they incorporate text as well as image, although some bear only text and others only image. The text appears as the artist's stream of consciousness voice. The rapid, one-off technique involved in making monoprints is perfectly suited to (apparently) immediate expression, as is Emin's scratchy and informal drawing style. Rarely displayed alone, the monoprints are particularly effective as collective fragments of intense emotional confrontation.
Emin has made several works documenting painful moments of sadness and loneliness experienced when travelling to foreign cities for various exhibitions. 80% - 20% Canada, as its title suggests, was made during a visit to Toronto. It depicts the top half of a female figure lying in a state of abandonment. The body seems to disintegrate from waist to feet. Emin has made many drawings depicting herself alone, masturbating or having sexual fantasies. Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Yea Canada, another monoprint made at the same time, portrays the artist masturbating. She has said of 80% - 20% Canada: 'it's about being 100% about anything and if you're honest it's rare in life that you can be 100%. I think this particular drawing refers to sexuality' (in conversation with the author July 2001). The figure's position, lying down, arms thrown back, together with the scratchy lines over its crotch, suggest inebrieted, masturbatory fantasy. Above the body, the figures '80%=20%' are back-to-front as a result of the monoprinting process, which creates a mirror image of what is drawn or written. Emin has stated:
For me, aggression, sex and beauty go together. Much of my work has been about
memory, for example, but memories of violence and pain. Nowadays if I make a
drawing I'm trying to draw love, but love isn't always gentle … Being an artist
isn't just about making nice things, or people patting you on the back; it's some
kind of communication, a message.
(Quoted in Morgan, pp.59-60.)
Emin's artistic production began in the early to mid 1980s with printmaking and painting. She was inspired by Austrian artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) and the German Expressionists, whose work she became aware of while studying at Maidstone College of Art (1983-6). Aspects of these early influences remain both in her subject matter and her style. Emin presents the records of her past as objects of iconic status, positing her persona (or the performance of it) as central. By basing her art on her emotional life, through the narration of frequently traumatic and abusive experiences, Emin has found a way to redeem her personal damage and to communicate on a direct and open level with her audience. She follows the precedence of Louise Bourgeois (born 1911), who has been making a direct connection between her art and her childhood traumas since the early 1980s, producing an Autobiographical Series of prints in 1994 (Tate P77682-95). Emin's raw and brutal honesty exposes the mixture of pathos, vulnerability, resentment and frank aggression which makes humanity so complex.
Stuart Morgan, 'The Story of I: Interview with Tracey Emin', Frieze, issue 34, May 1997, pp.56-61
Sex and the British, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg 2000, pp.3-4 and 25-9
Neal Brown, Sarah Kent, Matthew Collings, Tracey Emin: I Need Art Like I Need God, exhibition catalogue, Jay Jopling, London 1998, p.6