MFA Candidate Group 3
April 4, 2011
Mike Kelley and Tracey Emin
Mike Kelley and Tracey Emin are both conceptual artist practicing today. Both artists use a multitude of mediums to create their works. However, the ideas of the work for Kelley are often fantasies of his imagination while Emin creates honest work about her authentic life. They create work that is often sexual by nature. Kelley's work, however is not as obvious as Emin's stories of her daily sexual confrontations. As such, each artist's work demonstrates similarities in the theme, yet their pieces are very different as a result of the way in which the topic is approached.
Both Kelley and Emin have worked with a variety of mediums during their careers. Kelley has created work in painting, drawing, sculpture, video, theater, performance, appropriation, assemblage, collage, installation and photography. He has also written prose, was a recording artist as a member of the band Destroy All Monsters and collaborated with at least a dozen fellow artists. Although this is the case, he still makes objects of enormous power; objects that can live on their own and be distinctively his style although the mediums vary greatly. Emin's art is also created using many different forms of expression including: needlework, sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, monoprints and installation. Emin is known for using conventional handicraft techniques or “women's work” for radical intentions. Both artists choose the best medium for each idea; never being stuck one option.
Mike Kelley is often creating a fantasy within his work while Tracey Emin creates honest and explicit art about her life. Kelley's viewers have believed that his work is/was about childhood and memories. Although this was not his intent, it led Kelley to take an interest in repressed memory syndrome and the fear of child abuse. Kelley created a piece called Educational Complex that is a model of every school he ever attended and the home in which he grew up. All the parts he couldn't remember were left blank. Within this work, he used the idea of repressed memory syndrome where anything that you forget or block out is the result of abuse. (Sollins 78) He chose to fill the parts that he could not remember with recovered "repressed" memories, which were simply personal fantasies (O'Brien). The project was fiction from the beginning because Kelley felt that his biography was dull. Very different from Kelley, Tracey Emin's art is a testimony of her own life. Each piece is a intimate look into her life's events. She often announces painful situations with brutal honesty and sometimes with a dramatic humor as she creates her work. Emin has become known for taking personal issues that are universal and forming them into a genuine expression of human emotion. She exposes herself in a very direct manner that is often tragic and/or humorous. Singer Madonna says, “Tracey is intelligent and wounded and not afraid to expose herself, she is provocative but she has something to say. I can relate to that” (McKenzie). This opinion is often expressed by Emin's viewers. Her approach of raw imagery and open and honest stories makes a connection to the viewer. Emin states, “Being an artist isn't just about making nice things, or people patting you on the back; it's some kind of communication; a message”(McKenzie). Her work often has a sexually provocative attitude that firmly puts her in with the tradition of feminist discourse. In Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With, Emin used the process of appliqué to inscribe the names of lovers, friends and family, including her aborted twins, that she had slept with on a small, blue tent. Kelley creates work that is a fantasy of his imagination while playing off of his viewers' impressions of the work while Emin exposes herself, her hopes, humiliations, failures and successes in an amazingly open and honest manner.
Both Mike Kelley and Tracey Emin create work with sexual implications. While Emin's work is much more obvious, Kelley's personal interest in the monstrous is more sexual in orientation than one would imagine. He has always been interested in abstract monsters (O'Brien). Stemming from his childhood, he didn't know what female genitals looked like. He thought the blob monsters in films and comic books were what genitals must look like, therefore monsters became very sexual; mystifying and alluring to him. His original intent was not for monsters to be about childhood or abuse. Kelley had a very conservative, American life growing up unlike Emin whose father had two families and her mother, twin brother and herself were left to survive on their own after her father's hotel business went bankrupt. Because of this non-conventional up bringing Emin was often on her own and was raped by age thirteen. Many sexual events occurred in her life after the rape thus resulting in the sexual topics of her work. Emin has many works that clearly identify sex as the source for the work. She has hundreds of drawings giving extreme detail to her sexual experiences; good and bad. “It always was about sex, not money,” Emin said, “Sex was what held me in bed and got me out of it again in the morning” (Kennedy). As she gets older she is directing her work more toward ideas instead of sex, but she has made a name for herself by putting her sexual life in the spotlight of her art. While both artists use sexual ideas in their works, Kelley's use is in the ideas while Emin's use is front and center of her work.
Mike Kelley and Tracey Emin are both icons within the art world today for their use of materials, themes and ideas within their works. Few artists today or in the past have been as successful as both Kelley and Emin with using such a variety of materials. It keeps the viewer wondering what they will use next. Emin diverts our attention to reality; unlike Kelley she moves us away from illusions or fantasies. It is hard to find another female artist as open about her life experiences as Emin. She has chose to show us, the viewers, everything about her including a very real look into her sexual life. Kelly, with a much more conventional background than Emin, finds his biography to be boring thus creating fantasies that are evident in his work. Both artists are becoming historical icons within the art world today.
Welchman, John C., ed. Mike Kelley Minor Histories. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004. N. pag. Print.
Institute of Contemporary Art . The Puppet Show. Philadelphia, PA: Institute of Contemporary Art, 2008. 84. Print.
Sollins, Marybeth, ed. Art: 21. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, INC., 2005. 74-85. Print.
Luard, Honey, and Peter Miles, eds. Tracey Emin. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2006. N. pag. Print.
O'Brien, Glenn. "Mike Kelley." Interview Magazine. N.p., n.d. Google. Web. 21 Mar. 2011.
Kennedy, Maev. "Sex craze fading fast, says Tracey Emin at London exhibition launch." Guardian. N.p., 27 May 2009. Google. Web. 1 Apr. 2011.
"Tracey Emin." Wikipedia. N.p., 28 Mar. 2011. Google. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.
McKenzie, Janet. "Tracey Emin: 20 years." Studio International. N.p., 9 Mar. 2008. Web. 1 Apr. 2011.
Lewis, Jim. "Mike Kelley." Slate. N.p., 30 Nov. 2005. Web. 22 Mar. 2011.