Image may be found at TraceyEminStudio.com
Tracey Emin is certainly known in America, but she’s a household name in Britain. While many find plenty to praise or blame with regard to her work, she has nonetheless gained the ultimate showbiz imprimatur—a relentless cadre of paparazzi. According to Dallas’ Kenny Goss, “Even cabbies know who she is; everyone there knows who she is. It’s the same with George (Michael). They follow their lives and they stay with them because they’re literally part of British history.” He should know. Goss and his former partner, pop star George Michael, met Emin at the spendy London restaurant, Ivy, after Michael had seen her on a BBC documentary and was smitten. The couple went on a hugely imaginative—not to mention preposterously extravagant—buying spree and acquired a vast collection of her work. Even now, when the subject of Emin comes up, Goss becomes infectiously enthusiastic. And it’s easy to see why. Emin has redefined what art can be and what a working-class background can mean. And, stunningly, she creates work that readily connects to confessional literature that spans centuries by giving it an utterly new, not to mention startling, visual dimension.
While Emin spends a great deal of time in London, she also periodically takes a working holiday near St. Tropez where she has an idyllic retreat just half an hour from the Mediterranean hot spot. Tucked away in the hills, it sits high above the coastline and is as close to a vertical axis as you’ll find on the Côte d’Azur; ironically, Emin, the oft-declared “enfant terrible” provides an ascendant vector for an otherwise playboy-infused, horizontal plane on the beaches of the Riviera. By some accounts her French home/studio is surrounded by such sinuous roads and convoluted trails that even she has difficulty finding it on dark evenings. A mere 25-minute drive from Jerry Hall’s neighboring residence can take Emin almost three hours by the time a circuitous route is thoroughly driven, recalibrated and re-driven—again and then again. One thing is certain: calling Texas from her remote location requires a satellite phone as well as conspiring planetary movements ruled the gods in charge of poetry, messages and communiqués.
While waiting on her call from the south of France, I did a bit of research on what it might be like to talk with Emin and ran across a chat between her and actress Joan Collins of “Dynasty” fame. So much for research. I was certain Collins and I have approximately zero in common since I’m short on both bling and a bevy of ex-husbands. However, Emin and I eventually connected and it was surprising to hear a voice on the end of the line that was pleasingly, even shockingly, soft. She said, “Hello, this is Tracey. Is this a good time to talk?” I assured her it was a perfect time to talk and asked if she had received my questions. (I, of course, had prepared questions for the superstar of the art world.) The answer was “No, I gave strict instructions not to be bothered.” Oh. That was a game changer—but no problem. I went on to introduce a bit of Q and A to someone who is basking in limelight as a newly minted Commander of the Order of the British Empire and enjoying a huge uptick due to the sale of her work—My Bed, originally exhibited in 1999—to a German Count. However, the aforementioned satellite phone was breaking up on my end while she confidently declared, “No, it isn’t. You’re perfectly clear and you’re speaking over me.”
Well, you get the idea. The woman is the most well known female artist on the planet, enormously wealthy, and has the folks you read about in Vogue on speed dial. Her work is collected by the likes of Orlando Bloom, Elton John, Naomi Campbell, and the aforementioned Jerry Hall. Not to mention: Dallas’ own Goss-Michael Foundation. Stunningly, however, a sleepy Tracey Emin was on the other end of my phone connection—after all, it was almost eleven in the evening in France—but there was not one rock star, super model or (even) champagne bucket in sight. Just the two of us. You know: engaging in a bit of art talk—which I admit I found mildly disconcerting, given her reputation for wild-child behavior.
I mentioned a quote from her regarding the role of art. Emin had noted that art was part of preserving culture. More specifically, she stated, “Art is the soul of our nation… If the soul isn’t looked after then everything will go to pieces.” She immediately remembered the verbiage and went on the describe art as the “custodian of the soul. Art protects the soul and, if the soul is damaged, art is there to recognize that fact.” She added, “There’s never been a moment when I was not creative, and art was there like a safety net.” The last bit was uttered with heartfelt insistence. And who could disagree? This is sounding quite buttoned-down and straightforward rather than a quote that could be chalked up as the ramblings of the art world’s outré renegade. Emin is now past fifty and was recently made Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts. Her days of boozing and televised, blush-inducing invectives may be on the wane. Plus, her blunt desire to preserve and protect both our collective and individual psyches is both laudable and completely irresistible.
Gavin Delahunty, the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, states that her work, “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, was an absolute sea change moment in the art world, along with My Bed.” He also notes that her work displays a vivid brand of “exploration and poetics, a confused anxiety—but she has emerged as a powerful and influential artist. It is now clear to everyone that her work has had a huge impact on art-making throughout the world.” Thus, Emin’s interior angst has been transmuted into trenchant art, lavish price tags, and worldwide adulation. However, even the sunny environs in France don’t alter her art or her fascination with the searing and weighty truths that thread their way in and through the human heart. Apparently, there are things even the Riviera can’t change.
Emin notes: “The art is the same, but it’s just easier to stay focused here because there aren’t the distractions that are in London.” Her demand that her studio manager not interrupt her work with my list of questions was eliciting concern on my part, and I quickly switched gears and mentioned my fondness for Goss. Any shred of Gallic brittleness was immediately banished, and Emin declared that the Goss-Michael Foundation “has so many pieces. They have a Tracey Emin museum!” She reiterated, “They have a huge number of pieces and a painting called ‘Hurricane.’” This was intoned in a way that emphasized the last work and her intense fondness for it. Goss says, “Every person who has seen that painting loves it!” It’s completely apparent that he is one of its foremost devotees. In the work, which is reminiscent of her line drawings on paper, a figure, frenetically depicted, seems to be emerging from an—equally frenetic—acrylic storm.
Emin and I covered some additional ground before she announced that she needed to go to bed, and we parted company. And, frankly, the phone call was mere icing on the cake for what is an already plum of an assignment. I feel as if I know her through her work far more deeply than could ever be conveyed via a phone conversation. In fact, I can’t help but put her in context with a long line of other confessional work that has held readers rapt for centuries. Most scholars agree that the genre was born in North Africa—ironically, a mere short flight over Mediterranean waters and less than 500 miles from the shores of France. I refer to St. Augustine of Hippo, who penned his Confessions, circa 397 AD, in such a way that it still reverberates with contemporary artists and memoirists. His work delivers a starkly frank account of his abundantly active sex life and his later move toward a—quite improbable—role as spiritual luminary for the West. Augustine’s work is a haunting and plangent cry for an explanation of why we do what we do. Moreover, he conferred upon us an ineluctable pull toward internal transformation. This was both completely new and a hook that worked then and still works now. Not because it’s contrived, but because it’s so deeply penetrating. He might well have deployed one of Emin’s mantra-like intonations: “Love is What you Want.” At this point it should be utterly obvious that some things are, indeed, timeless.
Similarly, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote his own Confessions in the 18th-century in which he discussed masturbation. His candor sent the philosopher Edmund Burke into paroxysms of disgust with regard to the airing of “vulgar vices.” Burke’s remarks are in concert with what we still hear today with regard to Emin’s works, some of which also explore autoeroticism, as well as literary pieces that include Katheryn Harrison’s The Kiss and Toni Bentley’s Surrender—both of which address subject matter generally considered taboo. Memoirists’ works are endless and the personal purge shows no signs of abating. For that matter, did Jung ever write anything more thrillingly scintillating than his own Red Book? We relentlessly peer into it, hoping to glimpse vivifying insight into our own lives. We see other people’s wounds and psychic bandages as peep shows that confer wisdom regarding our own reasons for failing and flailing. We never seem to manage to perennially float on top of the world—and that troubles us. Thus, for the weary and searching, Emin delivers the goods. Rape, botched relationships, miscarriages, drugs, and booze. Her first solo show in America was held in 1999 at Lehmann Maupin Gallery. The title? “Every Part of Me’s Bleeding.” She produces unleashed, raw, anguished and, by turns, remarkably gentle work. She also tells us who we are by telling us who she is. We get the experience without the damage and the scars. Who can resist?
It becomes clear that wounds, Emin’s and ours, become apertures. They’re the means by which we learn to “see better,” a phrase from Shakespeare’s King Lear. And, it’s fitting that the same play describes a character as “seeing feelingly.” Perhaps no other phrase limns the manner in which art should be both made and seen. A significant power emerges from art that remains tethered to the body, when “seeing feelingly” remains the operative action. Interestingly, the literary market has been flooded with a slew of tales issuing from female authors who make no bones about their bodies—and what has been done with them and to them. In fact, the memoir genre flared with a fascinating rise in popularity in the 1990s and the attendant lurid details involving rape, incest, and substance abuse that were once deemed unmentionable suddenly were lauded for their candor and thunderous acts of disclosure. Even more fascinating—and surprising—is the fact that the aforementioned literary trend can be explored with nuanced deftness through Emin’s work.
She delivers the history of her life with complete authenticity, and this is done, in part, by reminding us that things are perpetually freighted with psychological import. Everything tells a story. Everything we touch or long to touch resonates with meaning. Thus, one of her blankets or installations is far more than a cluster of materials—it points us to a larger, richer arc than could ever be described by the calculus of everyday fabric and soiled or sewn items. There’s something far more mysterious at work. It’s a realm that isn’t seen but felt. And it is one Emin explores with a candor that is unmatched.
With the sale of her work, My Bed, to a German industrialist, Count Christian Duerckheim—who paid £2.54m for the piece and subsequently agreed to loan it to the Tate for at least 10 years—Emin has been an especially hot topic of late. And, as has been noted innumerable times, My Bed is freighted with used condoms, stained undergarments and bed sheets, booze bottles and cigarette butts. It’s an artifact that she dubbed art. And, arrestingly, this turned out to be a singular move that forever changed the manner in which confessional work and visual art can be understood. For one thing, it stridently underscores the fact that things are hosts for memory and other realms to which Emin frequently alludes in her own memoir, Strangeland. The book is one that British broadcaster, Jeanette Winterson, read and deemed so “painfully honest…(that) certainly some of it should have been edited out by someone who loves her.” The text is both emotionally eviscerating and haunting. In it Emin notes that her own appearance in the world bears the stamp of the accidental because her twin, Paul, pulled her into it. She claims that, otherwise, she simply would not be here—and certainly not present for the ongoing international conversation regarding contemporary art.
Given this slippery quality of the real—this meshing of realms—it’s important to realize that Emin gives us missives directly from the psyche. They’re unfiltered and undisturbed. And perhaps that is why we find them so unsettling. She confers upon us a reality that is ungoverned by empirical, Cartesian parsing—which, as an aside, remains the (antiquated) “skill set” many people still deem appropriate for looking at art. Emin holds fast to experience-as-image and therein abides a fullness that is lost when ruptured by limited or preconceived perspectives. She demands that we keep things whole and intact; in other words, Emin calls us to witness and share her pain, mystery, and shimmer. Whether we make the experience a temporary campfire or a lasting hearth is up to us. However, she ardently insists that we acquiesce to the experience of her (quite real) metaphorical heat.
Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet famous for his contribution to German literature, wrote:
“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life….”
Thus, Emin is easily inserted into company that is quite august. However, she would underscore the point that “art is real (and) it’s the other things that aren’t real.” And she does say things. Her neon sculptures are expert and starkly honest epigrams that speak volumes about matters of the heart as well as moments deemed sacrosanct. In fact, I asked Emin if things should sometimes be kept secret. After all, she is the epitome of a completely open, balls-to-the-wall truth teller. She answered, “Sure, some things should be kept secret, sacred things.” “Like what?” I asked. “Like love,” she responded. It’s been said that it’s the soft things that will break your bones. Emin delivers the whole panoply of emotions in ways that make us ache. And therein lies her capacity to stun us with her—quite remarkable—genius.
[Originally published in Visual Art Source, Los Angeles]
Speech that touches upon descriptions of the divine inevitably employs the imagery of light. Without cataloging a litany of examples from Christianity and Judaism, not to mention Hinduism and Buddhism, it is hardly surprising that this is equally true with regard to Islam. In fact, one of the names of the Koran is an-Nur, the Light. Thus, the following text from the Koran proves, well, illuminating:
God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of his light is, as it were, that of a niche containing a lamp; the lamp is enclosed in a glass and the glass shines like a radiant star; the lamp is lit from a blessed tree — an olive tree that is neither of the east or the west —the oil whereof is so bright that it would well-nigh give light of itself even though fire had not touched it: light upon light.
This single bit of metaphorical text recalibrates our notion of the current exhibition at the DMA, “NUR: Light”. The text, of course, is a description of mystical illumination. It describes a light that confers brightness despite its lack of a literal “oneness” with the source of fire that is “not touched.” If you look for similar explanatory materials relating to the show at the museum, you will be disappointed. This is particularly lamentable since most Americans only know the Muslim faith via its relationship to events on 911. “NUR”, then, should not be let go as a missed opportunity since the show can teach us much. That being said: For a show celebrating light and its concomitant ramifications, it is daunting that museumgoers are forced through what feels like a fluorescent tube to enter the exhibition. It’s not the gorgeous light of North Africa or Spain; it, instead, is offensively tacky and reminiscent of a buying spree at Home Depot. However, if one is willing to endure a less than august entrance to the show and engage in a bit of investigation regarding one of the three Abrahamic religions, the DMA delivers treasures that, despite a flagging presentation and lack of information, can still delight.
In fact, the Sufis — adherents to Islam who many scholars feel offer a merging of heart and intellect with regard to the divine that outstrips the West — turn to symbolism and imagery to apprehend the divine. Thus, a show of Islamic art is of tremendous import. And the DMA has put forth a collection about which they have crowed mightily. They have counted pieces, measured them, and described materials and points of origin with alacrity. But will those who view the show leave with an expanded understanding of a faith that is often met with furor or even violent repugnance? The resounding answer is “Yes” — if they are willing to look, read, and reflect.
For instance, the show displays astrolabes, images of the zodiac, medical arcana, calligraphy, bowls, urns, and miniature paintings. However, these items, bereft of additional information, do little than deliver a glancing blow when it comes to understanding the expanse of Arabic learning. As one example, it is widely alleged that Muslim scholars either saved the Greek canon from destruction or, at the very least, offered commentaries on it that made Aristotle and other notable scholars far more accessible to the West than would have otherwise been possible. This is a mere aside, yet it provides a valuable context. Put another way, the show gives art to us without a broad frame of reference by which to appreciate and apprehend it.
However, go and experience the artifacts on display. Don’t count them or care overmuch about their size or point of origin. It is far more important that you’re in the presence of items that intimate a large, brightly lit world. And dare we say it? A transcendent one. In his work, Mishkat al-Anwar, al Ghazzali interprets the “Sura of Light” quoted in the second paragraph of this piece. He explains that the Creator alone exists or has being. Everything else “has being not in itself but in regard to the face of its Maker, so that the only thing which truly is is God’s Face.”
The corollary within the context of the show is that everything comes to us as a redacted version of a divinity most aptly described as an iteration of light. After all, both confer the glint of beauty and a means by which everything that is can be oriented in the world. To understand this notion — or, more precisely, to inhabit this mindset — requires a new way of seeing. The DMA has delivered to the public some glorious objects to scrutinize. So why are they so terse when it comes to celebrating them?
They tout the size of the show with vengeance but fail to give us compelling reasons for loving it. After all, most of us can count. So sheer numbers don’t really offer a new vector into what is an otherwise opaque culture for many. In fact, it can become embarrassing. As a bit of ancillary information: The DMA has on display 150 pieces in NUR. The Louvre owns 14,000 pieces that are housed in their Islamic wing. And they have added 3,500 decorative pieces to that. But airfare, hotels and left bank dining are expensive — and “NUR: Light” is close at hand. So give yourself over to it in ways that are deep and thoughtful — in lieu of merely mimicking awe regarding its “staggering” scope.
Learning about Islamic culture seems daunting to many people outside the Muslim community. However, what is a demanding task for some is an electrifying gallop for others. In either case, it’s worthwhile. Don’t miss it. Allow yourself to enter into another culture and you won’t become lost. Rather, you’ll come to know your own tradition far better.
— Recommended by Patricia Mora
Joslyn Taylor’s father played saxophone in Edgar Winter’s “White Trash” band and, oddly, this explains a lot. His work as a musician meant that she spent a peripatetic childhood in wildly disparate points in Louisiana and California, including the rapturously gorgeous topography of Big Sur. She praises the scenery along the sinuous, coast-hugging Highway 1 and it becomes clear that Taylor is, indeed, a California girl — albeit operating splendidly as a transplant. She pulled out a lavishly printed album cover featuring sexily sweaty photographs of her father from “back in the day” and explained that his life as a musician dictated changing residences frequently as his career morphed. She said that “people in both Louisiana and California are very laid back, very friendly” and added that Los Angeles is a slice of atypical glitzy turf in what is surely the most boho state in all of America. It’s also clear that she still loves it deeply.
This is readily apparent because her Cali background is imprinted everywhere in her residential DNA. Her home meanders throughout approximately 4,000-square feet of space that is utterly tranquil, more than a bit “Zen” and the very definition of “comfy.” There is a dish of quartz crystals on a table adjacent to the living room sofa, a huge salt-water aquarium sporting yellow- and blue-striped fish near an over-sized bar area; and, outdoors, a thatch of bamboo is still green and thriving despite a recent snowy freeze. It splendidly skirts a backyard pool overlooked by a cozy area perfect for imbibing cocktails during warm afternoons. Put bluntly, the entire residence is something a frequent Esalen attendee would cook up.
All of this is especially remarkable since Taylor juggles a life with her husband, two young daughters, and a full-time job as a Principal at Swoon, the Studio. For the uninitiated, Swoon is owned by Samantha Reitmayer Sano who brings her massive talent to an array of projects, including: branding, print media, exhibition and retail space — and, of course, home décor. After Taylor teamed up with Sano and took on much of the responsibility (and joy) of a booming company with an A-list clientele, an obvious question comes to mind. Namely: Who has time to decorate?
Thus, what follows is pertinent information. When her eldest child asks politely if she can play in the snow, not one beat is missed. When the youngest daughter pads by, heading toward her room wherein girly pink décor collides with doodads resembling tiny gears and car parts, that, too, is deftly handled. It’s obvious that the woman possesses a miraculous combo of Mommy / Executive Talent / Wildly Creative skill sets.
In Ginsu-knife vernacular, her bio would read, “But wait! There’s more!” Taylor started her career as a high-powered executive in marketing at EDS and Siemens. She then shifted gears in toto and was lured away from a fifteen-year stint in corporate culture to work at “D” magazine before moving on to her ultimate dream job at Swoon, the Studio. Says she, “Samantha asked me dinner and said she wanted to discuss business. Well, two cocktails in, she suggested that we work together.” After a bit of contemplation, Taylor succumbed to the offer and now is the epitome of a hugely talented businesswoman who works ferocious hours while adoring every minute of it.
Luckily, she’s an early riser and cranks work out like a champ between wee hours, four a. m. to be exact, and a more reasonable block of time stretching into eleven in the morning. In other words, she has put in a full day while most people are still feeling the miraculous buzz of their first espresso-laden, sing-the-body-electric beverage.
Egads! She probably is also an expert in yoga and performs Crane and Warrior poses with the gracefulness of Nureyev. However, if that’s the case, I simply can’t bear to know.
by PATRICIA MORA
portraits by NAN COULTER
DAVID QUADRINI resembles an Indian sadhu and has a mind that darts between topics with the speed of a Formula One car. He walks into Ascension, the hip coffee bar in the Dallas Design District, and it becomes infinitely more hip the moment he passes through the door. I’m not sure how it begins, but his initial remarks involve his experience preparing macrobiotic food for the legendary composer and artist John Cage. It went wackier from there.
I had been warned — but nothing prepared me for the force that is David Quadrini. A Dallas native and an artist who describes his own work as “looking like a bruise,” Quadrini created the wildly successful Angstrom Gallery, which attracted glitterati from both coasts to an improbable location on Parry Avenue. In 2004, he moved on to establish himself in Venice, California, where he lives now and where he recently put up a show, for which he asked important artists, including Jeff Elrod and Mark Flood, to create actual bumper stickers. Says Quadrini: “It’s so perfect. Now everyone will know exactly what kind of person is driving the car in front of them. They’ll know everything because of the artist’s sticker they chose!” He announces this and then smiles as broadly as a child surrounded by puppies and bounce houses. And, yes, he’ll be in town during the time of the Dallas Art Fair, but there is nothing on his schedule. Yet.
ROBYN O’NEIL is among the Texas expatriate artists Quadrini brought into the light of public adulation. She is known for her large-scale graphite drawings and will be in Dallas for the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Great Create, an interactive family fundraising event on April 27 that benefits the Nasher’s education programs. O’Neil’s work was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and she has had shows in a variety of cities: Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris, Shanghai and New York, to name a few. However, she makes it clear precisely where her roots lie. “I started my career in Dallas while I was still in college. David Quadrini gave me my first one-person show in 2000.” Indeed, he spotted her long before she shot off into the glammed-up international art sphere.
CHRISTINE NICHOLS, owner of C. Nichols Project art gallery in Mar Vista, is another associate of Quadrini. She is bringing work to this month’s Dallas Art Fair that includes pieces by Thaddeus Strode, an artist she describes as being “fascinated by Moby Dick — but he depicts things from the point of view of the whale. It’s a bit sinister.” Nichols grew up on Padre Island where, according to Quadrini, “Her mother flies a plane and takes off to places like Marfa! We just pile in and go!” (It should be noted that said plane is a Cessna Citation jet, the swankiness of which obviously makes far less of an impression on Quadrini than the chumminess of flying off with friends to a locale deemed somewhat remote.) Nichols now lives in a modernist beach house by acclaimed architect Maya Lin. Nichols is, in Quadrini’s opinion, a spectacular gallerist. “Christine occupies the highest ethereal plane of the art world,” he says. This is lofty praise from an art sage known for separating the splendid from the dross.
Thus, three Texas natives who migrated to Los Angeles are still maintaining their ties to one another and to their home state. They coalesce and regroup and, generally, maintain an exotic camaraderie. Quadrini indicates that there are fabulous things on the horizon. He merely arches an eyebrow and offers a succinct cliffhanger: “It’s going to be amazing.”
The recent exhibition at The Crow Collection of Asian Art, “Vivan Sundaram: Re-take of Amrita,” operates as a kind of memory theatre wherein space and time collapse. While Sundaram’s images were created with Photoshop, they retain a glamorous retro sensibility that flares with exotica ranging from Parisian parlors to Hungarian landscapes. Mirrors, paintings, and lavish furnishings all come together to create a montage of household scenes that operate as a fictional world where generations, including the living and the deceased, collide. The result is an ethereal, composite narrative that is both compellingly complex and, quite simply, gorgeous.
The original photographs incorporated into the show’s works were done by Umrao Singh Sher-Gil — Sundaram’s grandfather — and largely include self-portraits as well as images of his opera-singer wife and their daughters, Amrita and Indira. However, a young Sundaram can also be spotted, reflected in a mirror and holding a camera. Thus, what the artist describes as his fascination, “photo-dream-love-play,” is intimated in a single image that operates as reverberating lodestar for the exhibition.
To add still another layer, Amrita, Sundaram’s relative, is the focal point around which the show, the “re-imaging,” circulates. She was lauded as India’s premiere modern artist after studying at L’École des Beaux Arts in Paris and returning to India where she created work that conflated European and Indian sensibilities. She died suddenly in 1941 at the age of 28 and, thus, became the tragic figure that Sundaram’s images — “re-takes” — explore. The show depicts how one reimagines the past and comes to terms with it via narratives — in this case, reconstructed visual “stories.” The exhibition bears the stamp of a fabulously nuanced understanding of memory that is lovely, honed, and utterly irresistible.
— Recommended by Patricia Mora
This piece features 3/4-inch glass that is hand-etched.
The base is made of African mahogany with a bulb embedded inside the pyramid-shaped base.
It is meant to be viewed in a fully darkened room and all that appears are “spokes” of emerald-green light.
Sergio Pallazzetti agreed to add it to his showroom; however, I was subsequently contacted and told that I needed an entire “line’ of work. This proved impossible due to the outlandish cost of having prototypes made.
Thus, this became a “one off.” Or two.
(One was purchased and I retained one for myself.)