Kent Life interviews Tracey Emin

PUBLISHED: 19:19 19 May 2010 | UPDATED: 11:48 28 February 2013

Kent Life interviews Tracey Emin

Kent Life interviews Tracey Emin

Renowned artist Tracey Emin was in reflective mood when she returned to her roots to launch her new neon artwork for Droit House on Margate's seafront

Kent Life interviews Tracey Emin

Renowned artist Tracey Emin was in reflective mood when she returned to her roots to launch her new neon artwork for Droit House on Margates seafront

Tracey Emin has always had a complicated relationship with Margate, but it was nothing short of a mutual love affair when she launched a brand new homage to her home town.

The pink handwritten neon text, I Never Stopped Loving You, now adorning the front of Droit House on Stone Pier, may have a touch of the bittersweet about its message, but her choice of medium reflects all the bright lights and fizzing colours of the neon she grew up with and loved as a teenager on Margates Golden Mile.

And it also sends out a challenge to the world to reconsider the coastal resort of her youth quite literally in a new light, just as the town hopes to one day soon be bathed in a new era of prosperity and regeneration when the Turner Contemporary - right next to Droit House and currently swathed in scaffolding - opens next spring.

Certainly Traceys town seemed to be expressing its gratitude loud and clear, with spontaneous exhibitions popping up all over the place (We love you too, read one poster, Welcome home Tracey another) and other more tangible forms of affection.

I was walking around Margate today and everyone was shaking my hand and hugging me and kissing me and thanking me for what Ive done for Margate! she says, in tones of genuine amazement.

Ive done very little, but what I have always done is champion this town and now the people of this town are appreciating me for that and seeing how its working, and thats brilliant. I never take those sort of things for granted. I have to pinch myself.

Whatever may have happened in her past life in Margate and it is a very troubled past the renowned artist she is today is passionate in her support for the town and its cultural regeneration. Sadly, the plight of Margate has got so bad that people now are starting to say something has to be done about it. Whats brilliant about the Turner Centre is that its given people some hope that things are going to change here, and its also put Margate back on the map. People have to pay attention to it now.

Despite her much-referenced unhappy youth and childhood, Tracey, who was born in London in 1963 to an English mother and Turkish Cypriot father, still believes she was extremely lucky to have grown up in the Kentish coastal resort.

Back in the early nineties I worked for Southwark Council for two years as a youth tutor with a lot of latchkey kids on very heavy housing estates, she says. During those two years, I realised that no matter how unhappy or how bad my teenage experiences were, I was so lucky to have had those experiences in Margate, because it gave me an understanding about nature, beauty and space. Margate shaped me as a person in a very poetic way.

And this from the girl who had experienced casual violence, humiliation and rape by the age of 13, left school that same year, returned for two months when she was 15 only to leave again with just five GCSEs, including a Grade 3 in Art and no hope that shed get into art school. Its a wonder she has any tender feelings left for the place at all.

Yet perhaps because early years were so tough, Tracey, 46, retains a wonderful childlike innocence and awe about her success in later life including representing Britain at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007 and being made a Royal Academician. Does she feel shes become part of The Establishment now?

I think Ive been part of the establishment for a long time, secretly its ****ing brilliant! You can make a much better mess from the inside than you can from the outside, and its a lot of fun. I celebrate every moment I get. When I was made an RA, I was so chuffed because I never thought it would happen to me. Id always been on the outside.

All the things that Ive done have been a challenge and its made my life exciting. And I think for those reasons being part of the establishment is being rewarded for my hard work, because I have had to work really hard. So I rejoice in it and I enjoy it and I celebrate every moment of it and Im never ever cynical about any of that stuff some people take it all for granted, but I never do.

She is also touchingly excited about the new Turner Contemporary, which commissioned her neon. Ive just walked around the site in a hard hat, boots and jacket and I thought, wow, Im going to have a show here! When I first knew about it, I did wonder if they would ask me.

What Im so pleased with is how sensitive the architect Sir David Chipperfield is to the people of Thanet. He held meetings and asked people what they wanted and needed. My mum is 82 and she is so looking forward to going to the caf there and having a cup of tea and a slice of cake and looking out of the window.

When British Home Stores used to have the caf up there, it was great, everyone used to go there and look out over the sea, winter or summer thats the kind of thing we need brought back here, and if its an art gallery thats going to do it, then I promise the people of Margate arent going to get p***ed off having their cup of tea in an art gallery, theyre going to love it! And they might even look at the art as well.

Tracey is also a huge fan of Dreamland, which inspired her installation, and she especially requested that a photo of it lit up at night should be put up in Droit House. Her quote next to it sums up her feelings: I grew up in Margate with the Golden Mile. The neon and the lights always seemed like magic to me. I really wish that Margate could be relit again.

She remembers working in Dreamlands Garden Caf in the summer of 1977, just after the death of Elvis Presley. I was working behind the counter and the punks came down over the Bank Holiday, I had on my drainpipe jeans and my plastic sandals, my lime green striped T-shirt and backcombed dyed red hair, very David Bowie-esque, and my black eyeliner and they came into the caf and said whos the boss shes coming with us, youve got no choice in it, and youre going to pay her.

Everyone was scared of the punks and they took me on all the rides round Dreamland, took me back to work and said, now pay her. That was a real rock and roll moment, definitely.

Its all a bit different now, though still pretty rock and roll. Is her fame ever a hindrance? Most visual artists dont have much of a voice, but Ive got a big personality, my works all about me so it goes well together, and Ive got an unusual looking face the whole thing makes sense to me but not necessarily to other people.

Being so well known and an artist, it has hindered my career in quite a difficult way because people dont take me as seriously as they should. In Germany Im a professor and they take me much more seriously.

Here, Im treated more as a celebrity and thats a hindrance to me in terms of my serious art career, but in terms of opening up a library in Uganda, which Ive done, then its ****ing brilliant, in terms of being a patron and raising lots of money for the Aids charity Im a patron of, its brilliant. I try to use it as a positive thing and not to moan about it.

So does she ever regret being so intensely personal in her work? Not with my work, because what I do is calculated, carefully considered and worked out, she says. When I did My Bed in 1998, I showed it first in Japan and the Japanese people were just horrified by my dirty slippers, and they stole the condoms! Then I showed it in New York and they went, yeah, weve seen all this before, its feminism no fuss about it at all.

Then I go and show it at the Tate Gallery - and whoa! All I was worried at the time was what my boyfriends mum might think about it, not what the world was going to think. I learnt a big lesson from that and now Im much older, I consider a lot more and sensor myself on what I think I can cope with.

Referring back to her teenage violation, she adds: The worst rape of all is if you rape yourself and so whatever I put out I have to make sure that theres a bit of me that can take it, or take the pain, or that I understand the effects it would have on me.

On a happier note, she thinks a lot of young people are going to be particularly open to her sign, because theyre aware more of contemporary art. Im on the school syllabus, so if you study contemporary art, you learn about Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst! she laughs.

A lot of young kids now say they want to be artists when they leave school. And theres going to be this fantastic educational and learning centre here, for all ages, and people are going to really enjoy it. Art is good.

Im hoping people will find it really romantic and the kids will say, lets go and have a snog under Ive Never Stopped Loving You.

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