While there are plenty of artists who pull inspiration from the female nude, Tracey Emin draws it differently. If you don’t know who Tracey Emin is, you’ll probably know her more famous works: an unmade bed with blood-stained panties, a collection of neon love slogans and a tent (later destroyed in a gallery fire), stitched with the names of 102 people she had sex with between 1963 and 1965. Her artistic message is a combination of sexual liberation and alcohol abuse. Sex, in Tracey Emin’s case, is self-destructive.
In her latest show at London’s White Cube, “The Last Great Adventure is You,” Emin’s drawings aren’t hungover, they’re bent over. The nudes are in state of emotional masochism, drawn somewhere between the last menstrual cramp and welcomed retirement; otherwise abandoned in a vortex of loose skin, saggy tits and ass. The scribbled silhouette of her figures spill across the page, and often, the faces are scratched out. It’s a depiction of aging that’s not commended because it’s fixated on the unflattering realities of the female body past the peak of sexuality. It’s daunting in its shape and instead of joining the millions of paid ambassadors glorifying aging beauty, Tracey Emin doesn’t bullshit about it.
A few critics have called this exhibition pitiful. I think it’s brilliant. If progressive womanhood is defined by rising above the stretch marks with a “joyful spunk,” then art isn’t the right medium. And neither is plastic surgery for that matter, Renee Zellweger. Women want to be drawn as elegant warriors: a little pudgier than a retired runway model with glowing skin that radiates like the clueless women dancing around in Dove commercials. Instead, Emin bitterly scratches out the faces in runny black marker and titles her pieces with desperation for sexual recognition. Many of the titles in this collection, like her famous neon signs, read like frantic texts sent rashly in a heated argument: Good Body or That’s How You Think of Me.
Tracey Emin opted for an alternative nude with a broken libido. It’s a skewed perception, and so is the public’s viewpoint of aging past 40. If Tracey Emin has come to terms with herself as woman who is sexually consenting to old age, and people are willing to pay money to see a collection of lethargic female nudes in post-coital Netflix binge-watching positions, then let them. Because as much as we would like to believe that coming to terms with age is “a beautiful experience,” who are we kidding – it’s a pain. The skin wrinkles, the body aches and things fall apart. It’s inevitable, and like sex, our naked bodies become self-destructive.