phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Tracey Emin and William Blake: An Interview with Darren Pih
Image Credit: William Blake, 1757-1827: Pity c.1795. Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper. 425 x 539 mm. Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939

Tracey Emin and William Blake: An Interview with Darren Pih

14 March 2017 | Belphoebe New

When you think of Tracey Emin, you might see her in the same vein as Sarah Lucas or Damien Hurst. Yet this latest exhibition, currently showing at Tate Liverpool, makes a significantly more ambitious comparison: between Emin and Romantic artist William Blake, who died in 1827. The exhibition argues that – although realised in entirely different ways – Blake and Emin’s work share similar concerns of birth, death and spirituality. Just as Tracey Emin turned the art world on its head with the controversial artworks My Bed and Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, William Blake was equally unconventional for his time, championing freedom of expression and sexual liberation in his work. We spoke to Darren Pih, curator of the exhibition, about the challenges of exhibiting the two artists together and the surprising links that can be found between them.

Culture Calling: The topic of this exhibition is both quite surprising and ambitious. How did the idea come about?
 
Darren Pih: In recent years, Tate Liverpool has begun presenting In Focus displays of works by a single artist from the Tate collection. Last year we presented works by Henri Matisse, focusing on The Snail from 1953 and there’ll be a display of works by the American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein this September.
 
Tracey Emin’s My Bed is one of most talked about works of the past twenty years, but it has never been seen in the north of England. It may seem surprising to bring Blake and Emin together but at the same time I think many there are major themes shared in their work, despite them being separated by 200 years.

Tracey Emin, My Bed
Tracey Emin, born 1963: My Bed 1998. Box frame, mattress, linens, pillows and various objects. Overall display dimensions variable. Lent by The Duerckheim Collection 2015.
 
CC: What were the challenges you had to overcome in putting together the exhibition?
 
DP: One challenge was presenting a contemporary artist alongside a figure from the Romantic era. There is a stylistic difference, but we wanted their work to be a dialogue across the gallery. We knew that My Bed would be the centrepiece and wanted the installation at Tate Liverpool to feel theatrical. The walls are painted deep blood red with the work installed at the heart of the gallery, sat in a pool of light like a crime scene. The Blake works are presented in a more nocturnal setting with darkest blue walls. It creates a sense of hushed intimacy, which works well for both artists’ work.
 
CC: In making comparisons between Blake and Emin, was it about comparing the styles that they adopt or was it more about the themes they cover and their shared status as rebellious and ahead of their time within their respective periods? 
 
DP: It was a thematic link rather than a stylistic link. Both artists’ embody a commitment to uncompromised artistic and personal authenticity and freedom of expression. There’s also the spiritual relationship – the bed as a stage for birth and death, for example. Many of Blake’s works such as Nebuchadnezzar 1795–c.1805 conflate human nakedness with nightmarish visions, so there was a visceral aspect that related to Emin’s work.

House of Death, William Blake
William Blake, 1757-1827:The House of Death 1795-c, 1805. Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper. 485 x 610 mm. Tate. Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
 
CC: It’s quite easy for a modern audience to understand how Emin’s work is groundbreaking, but how was Blake’s work ahead of its time?
 
DP: Blake was a radical and a true libertarian, which is one of the reasons why he remains such a major reference point for British culture today. In his time, he condemned the slave trade and supported women’s rights. Like Emin, he believed in absolute creative freedom.
 
CC: Blake’s work is described as being ‘presented in the context of Emin’s empty bed, and symbolising the absent figure.’ Can you tell us a bit more about that idea?
 
DP: There was a sense that My Bed is a self-portrait of Tracey Emin. It’s a forensic and unflinching self-portrait in which the body is absent. Blake’s work is largely figurative in its exploration of spiritual and moral themes.
 
CC: Apart from My Bed, what would you say is the standout piece in the exhibition?
 
DP: One of my favourite works on display is Blake’s drawing The Soul Hovering over the Body Reluctantly Parting with Life c.1805. It offers a poetic vision of the passing of life. There are also the set recent figurative drawings by Emin, which have a raw and expressive immediacy, showing the influence of Egon Schiele.
 
See Tracey Emin and William Blake in Focus at Tate Liverpool until 3 September 2017. Entrance is free. For more information, visit their website.

Tell us what you think

You may also like

A Guide to Oxford’s Cocktail Bars

A Guide to Oxford’s Cocktail Bars

With the weather warming up the only thing anyone wants to do is sit outside with a chilled glass in hand. Lucky for us that…

‘Ultimately Music Does Still Have that Magical Hold on Us’: An Interview with the Flaming Lips

‘Ultimately Music Does Still Have that Magical Hold on Us’: An Interview with the Flaming Lips

He’s the eccentric front man of Oklahoma alt-rock band the Flaming Lips with an impressive back catalogue of 17 studio albums, countless tours and collaborations with…

Zhivago Theater at the Brighton Fringe

Zhivago Theater at the Brighton Fringe

A haunting performance sheds light on Russia's turbulent history at the Brighton Fringe.

Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Oxford is home to the oldest botanic garden in Britain, established in 1621 with the aim ‘to promote the furtherance of learning and to glorify nature.’…

A Guide to the Oxfordshire Science Festival

A Guide to the Oxfordshire Science Festival

‘Science – or the products of science like technology – is just a way of achieving something real, something that happens, something that works.’ These are the…

A Guide to the Oxford Offbeat Festival

A Guide to the Oxford Offbeat Festival

Brand-new theatre, comedy, dance, spoken word and music in the picturesque surroundings of Oxford – what more could you want from a festival? In a collaboration…

Independence Day Fair and BBQ at the American Museum in Britain

Independence Day Fair and BBQ at the American Museum in Britain

This July celebrate the independence of the good old US of A in the beautiful grounds of the American Museum near Bath.

Win a Pair of Tickets to Footloose: The Musical

G Live - Win a Pair of Tickets to Footloose: The Musical

We are giving away two pairs of tickets to see the spectacular show Footloose: The Musical in Guildford.

An Interview with Corinne Bailey Rae

An Interview with Corinne Bailey Rae

The BBC’s ‘Sound of 2006’ poll crowned her as the number-one breakthrough artist for that year, releasing her debut album that February and becoming only the…

Win a Two-Course Roast for Two Plus a Jazz Performance!

Wycombe Swan - Win a Two-Course Roast for Two Plus a Jazz Performance!

Win a two-course Sunday Roast for two people complete with an essential selection of jazz and swing at the Wycombe Swan.

Most popular

Win four tickets to a Dustin Hoffman screening - plus cocktails!

BFI Southbank - Win four tickets to a Dustin Hoffman screening - plus cocktails!

Celebrate the works of legendary actor Dustin Hoffman at London's BFI Cinema this summer!
Win a Family Ticket to The Tiger Who Came to Tea!

Orchard Theatre - Win a Family Ticket to The Tiger Who Came to Tea!

Based on the classic children's book by Judith Kerr, a trip to this Olivier-nominated play is a treat for the whole family.
Oxford’s Hidden Gems: Best Places to Eat

Oxford’s Hidden Gems: Best Places to Eat

In the second instalment of our monthly Oxford's Hidden Gems series, we take you on a tour of the best culinary corners of the city.
Win a Two-Course Roast for Two Plus a Jazz Performance!

Wycombe Swan - Win a Two-Course Roast for Two Plus a Jazz Performance!

Win a two-course Sunday Roast for two people complete with an essential selection of jazz and swing at the Wycombe Swan.
‘Ultimately Music Does Still Have that Magical Hold on Us’: An Interview with the Flaming Lips

‘Ultimately Music Does Still Have that Magical Hold on Us’: An Interview with the Flaming Lips

Explore the whimsical world of alt-rocker and Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne ahead of the band's show at the Brighton Dome.
A Guide to the Bristol Refugee Festival 2017

A Guide to the Bristol Refugee Festival 2017

This programme features film, live music, cycle rides and an Eid feast in a month-long celebration of Bristol's refugees.
Top 5: Picnic Spots in Cambridge

Top 5: Picnic Spots in Cambridge

Make the most of the hot weather this June with our pick of the perfect picnic spots in Cambridge.
Manchester on a Budget

Manchester on a Budget

Take a day trip to the city of football, Oasis, and birthplace of the modern computer without upsetting your bank balance.
‘I Could Have Done Science, But Instead I Became a Clown’: An Interview with Dara Ó Briain

‘I Could Have Done Science, But Instead I Became a Clown’: An Interview with Dara Ó Briain

One of the nation's favourite stand-ups chats to us about bamboozling the critics and his alternative life as a scientist.
Win a Fabulous Day Out at the Blenheim Palace Summer Jousting Tournament!

Blenheim Palace - Win a Fabulous Day Out at the Blenheim Palace Summer Jousting Tournament!

Here's your chance to win the perfect family day out at Blenheim Palace's thrilling Summer Jousting Tournament.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!