Tracey Emin's shock revelation: I had cancer. But never stopped working

Tracey Emin, the famous and controversial British artist, revealed that she had cancer. But she never stopped working. She told Artnet magazine the details of her struggle.

Tracey Emin, the controversial British artist, among the most prominent members of the Young British Artists group, and famous for her extremely provocative works investigating themes such as sex and emotions, revealed in an interview with Artnet magazine that she had bladder cancer earlier this year. The 57-year-old artist (she was born in Croydon, England, in 1963) was diagnosed in the spring and underwent surgery in the summer, and is now facing recovery. However, even in the most delicate stages of her illness, she has never stopped working: in particular, in recent months she has been concentrating on work for a solo exhibition of her own scheduled to be held in Brussels, where she will exhibit twenty-five recent works on the theme oflove, in all its nuances. The show, titled Details of Love, is scheduled for October 30 at the Xavier Hufkens Gallery. “The whole exhibition,” said the artist, “deals with the theme of things you notice when you fall in love.” For example, “rain is beautiful when you are in love. It’s all about understanding these little things.”

The diagnosis, the artist said, did not stop his plans: he had decided to leave London and move to Margate, a coastal town in Kent, England, and decided to stop drinking and having social contacts for a while. Priority, in short, to his inner world, the artist said, with the goal of finding a “pure” place to think and create. “I decided to radically change my life, in a split second.” At the moment she has almost finished moving, mourned the death of her kitten, and is losing weight-all changes that, she said, have given her strength in her fight against cancer.

The operation was not easy, especially for an artist known for exploring the female world down to its most visceral aspects. “They were going to remove my clitoris,” she told Artnet, “but I stopped them. I said ’don’t remove it if you can.’ And they didn’t remove it.” The most frustrating thing, she said, was the inability to be able to do, for some time, what she loves most: painting. This, however, did not stop her from photographing her own body, as an “existential project.” And again, this experience led her to stop complaining.

Given her health condition, and also given the health emergency situation in which all of Europe is now plunged again, Tracey Emin will not be in Brussels for the opening of the exhibition (“it’s a fucking mess,” she said with her very informal eloquence, a hallmark of her personality), but then again, she is an artist who has never liked this kind of worldliness. She will be content to get an update from afar on the outcome of her exhibition devoted to love. And on the why of this theme, the answer is dry: “I had fucking cancer, half of my body cut off, including half of my vagina. So I can perceive more than before that love is an allowed feeling. At my age, love is on a completely different dimension and level. I don’t want to have children, I don’t want all those things that one subconsciously desires when one is young. I just want love. As much as I could have. I want to be smothered by love, devoured by love. I think that’s okay.”

Pictured: Tracey Emin in her studio in 2016. Ph. Xavier Hufkens

Tracey Emin's shock revelation: I had cancer. But never stopped working
Tracey Emin's shock revelation: I had cancer. But never stopped working

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