Tracey Emin

Total Reverse


Not on display

Tracey Emin born 1963
Gouache on paper
Support: 228 × 305 mm
frame: 488 × 560 × 32 mm
Presented by the artist 2015


Total Reverse 2014 is one of six related works on paper by Emin in Tate’s collection, all of them dated 2014 (see Tate T14230, T14231 and T14233T14235). It is painted in black gouache on white paper and depicts a reclining female nude. The gouache paint has been applied in a gestural, sparing manner, with swift brush strokes. The composition focuses on the hips and legs of the figure so that her upper body and feet are cropped out of the image. This cropping characterises all six drawings, although in one – All for You (Tate T14231) – Emin has included all of the figure’s upper body, depicting her with arms raised and hands clasped behind her head. The title of each work underlines the sensuality of both the subject and the medium, and might also suggest an element of narrative and personal experience.

While there is an immediacy and looseness in the handling of the paint, these drawings are the result of repetition. Emin has returned to painting and drawing throughout her career as a means of reconsidering her relationship with the medium. The headless figure itself is a motif that recurs throughout the artist’s drawings, and has also appeared in works in other media such as Something’s Wrong 2002 (British Council Collection, London), an appliqué blanket displaying a headless figure with money pouring out from between its legs. In these six drawings Emin, whose work is often candidly autobiographical, scrutinises her relationship with her own body, using drawing as a way of exploring the possibilities of self-representation and self-expression. She examines, albeit with a compassionate eye, the mutability of the female body over time.

Emin has acknowledged the influence on her work of turn-of-the-century expressionist painting, particularly the works of Egon Schiele (1890–1918) and Edvard Munch (1863–1944). This can be seen most directly in the painting style of her monoprints and other works on paper, such as Total Reverse. But the artist’s highly personal practice is also informed by a feminist approach that presents often controversial subject matter through the revelation of intimate personal details, frequently demonstrating vulnerability and audaciousness at the same time. In an interview with the critic Stuart Morgan in 1997 Emin commented on this aspect of her work:

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 1997, pp.56–61.)

Emin, who is known for the confessional tone of her work (see, for example, My Bed 1998, Tate L03662) uses sculpture, installation, video, photography, drawing, printmaking and written text to reveal the minutiae of life. The series of six related works of which this drawing is a part offers a different – and somewhat less autobiographical – aspect of Emin’s practice as an artist, exploring drawing as a medium for the expression, scrutiny and representation of the self.

Further reading
Stuart Morgan, ‘The Story of I: Interview with Tracey Emin’, Frieze, no.34, May 1997, pp.56–61.
Tracey Emin: Borrowed Light, exhibition catalogue, British Council, London 2007.
Tracey Emin: 20 Years, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2008.

Leyla Fakhr
November 2014

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Display caption

In this drawing Emin examines her relationship with her own body by looking at how the (female) body changes over time. Throughout her career, Emin has exposed aspects of her own, often intimate, experience in a way that is vulnerable and defiant at the same time. She does not shy away from difficult personal experiences. She has commented: ‘Much of my work has been about memory, for example, memories of violence and pain… I’m trying to draw love, but love isn’t always gentle… Being an artist isn’t just about making nice things...’.

Gallery label, May 2019

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