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The
Last Great Adventure Is You

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Critical Review

Tracey Emin’s The Last Great Adventure Is You traces the artist’s resurfacing within the art scene with a major and extensive solo exhibition held in 2014 at White Cube, London. In the artist’s words, the works presented at the show - which included bronze sculptures, gouaches, paintings, large-scale embroideries and neon works - were "about rites of passage, of time and age, and the simple realisation that we are always alone.”

Emin’s self-reflective and inquisitive investigations into her own emotional life and her female body come back in the series of works on paper and canvas she produced for the exhibition. Works such as In My Mind II and Further Back To You recall the early 2000s monoprints included in her Nude Drawings and Nude Self-Portraits. However, where the outlines of the figures were demarcated through the use of a very thin, almost invisible line, Emin’s mark is now more thick and affirmative. The figures predominating these works are still naked women, reclining alone onto blank backgrounds in a contemplative manner. The female protagonists are sensuous and inviting, and seem to be waiting for their lovers to arrive. This sense of awaiting and longing is heightened through the title of the show, the Last Great Adventure is You, which in Emin’s imagery functioned as an open invitation to “the other person”. However, throughout the two years that took her to put together the exhibition, Emin soon realised that no one would arrive and that the “implication was once again coming back to the self.”

It is this relentless investigation of herself, and the invitation for the viewer to follow her example, that sets Emin’s oeuvre apart from anything seen in the contemporary scene. The artist is famous for having pioneered the artist-as-art union, whereby the artist’s own life becomes the subject matter of most of her works, which then read as visual self-confessions of emotional turmoil and solitude.

The naked female body provides Emin with her most potent subject matter. In this recurring use of the female figure, Emin situates herself in a long art historical tradition that places the female nude at the centre of the work. Unsurprisingly, the artist quotes Egon Schiele as one of the main masters that inspired her. The visual parallels are evident. Emin ascribes to Schiele the pioneering of self-inquisition and portrayal. The artist recalls that “a lot of other art that I had been exposed to up until this point was about artists looking at other things and other people. Egon Schiele appeared to be intensely looking at himself.” Beyond the portrayal of the self, Emin’s debt to the early-20th century master is also evident in her rendition of the figures and the poses the artist chooses for her female protagonists, which evoke loneliness but also sensual desire and longing.

In their sketched rendition, these images possess the powerful and evocative qualities of Emin’s art, which speaks to the universal themes of life, loss, desire and turmoil that have fascinated so many about the artist.