Tracey Emin says cancer battle inspired her to open studios for emerging artists in hometown Margate

ITV News entertainment reporter Rishi Davda speaks to artist Tracey Emin about her new project, her cancer diagnosis, and her love for art

I don’t use the word 'privilege' lightly but sitting on a stool in the cavernous home workshop of acclaimed artist Tracey Emin is just that⁠— a privilege.

Tracey became a household name as one of the 'Young British Artists' of the 1980s.

Her best-known works include ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’ and ‘My Bed.’

Now though, she is turning her attentions to the next generation of artists with a new studio complex in her hometown of Margate.TKE studios - an abbreviation of her full name Tracey Karina Emin - is just a stone’s throw from Tracey’s own personal workspace.

She’s self-funding a studio complex and residency programme, hoping to create a haven where up-and-coming artists can learn, create and share.

Tracey Emin stands by her work, My Bed, as the gallery highlights new and rehung works of art at the Tate Britain gallery in London, 2015

The space will provide 12 subsidised professional art studios, a rigorous exhibition cycle and two-year residencies for 15-20 students, with free studios, tutorials and lectures.

There are currently more than 672 buildings and approximately 15,000 studio units overall in the UK, with nearly half of all affordable workplace studios in the UK based in London, according to the Creative Workspace Network (CWN).

Approximately 13,780 artists are on waiting lists, and studio occupancy rates are at 95%, suggesting demand is high and sustained despite the pandemic, based on a report commissioned by the Mayor of London last year.

Surrounding by colour-filled canvases, creations just started, and creations just finished, Tracey tells why she thinks Margate is the perfect place for her project, especially given the high cost of living in London.

She says "people will have a free studio here, no rent, no tuition fees. They’ve got lots of support and the price of accommodation is considerably cheaper than London."

Tracey, who is now a Royal Academician, is looking to give back to the art community.

Tracy Emin speaks to ITV News. Credit: ITV News

She reflects that "art is all I’ve ever done. Art stays true to me, art loves me, looks after me, so it’s payback time. It’s looked after me, so I will look after it."

"If I have 30 artists every two years coming through that space, and two or three make it to be great artists, well that’s payback."

A diagnosis of bladder cancer back in 2020 put Tracey’s work life on hold, but it also gave her the opportunity to decide what she really wanted in life.

Thinking back on that time, she says that "the best way for me to share art is to help people create it. The cancer has helped me realise that I have to do things quickly."

As a result, she poured her own money into her studio complex, taking both creative and financial responsibility.

Later this month she’ll be auctioning off a painting expected to fetch up to £700,000 with all earnings raised helping to fund TKE studios.

Emin's 'Like a Cloud of Blood'. Credit: Tracey Emin / ITV News

The painting is called ‘Like a Cloud of Blood’ and holds a very special place in Tracey’s heart.

"With the cancer, I couldn’t carry a tea tray. I couldn’t paint, draw or sit up in a chair. When I started to get better, started to build myself up again, then I started to do it."

"The painting that we are auctioning is the first painting I finished since being ill. I was so proud and happy that I was expressing myself. The painting expressed optimism."Laura Footes is one of the artists who will benefit from Tracey’s new school and studio space. She left London because of the high rental costs, with Margate helping her find her feet as an artist.

Laura Footes with Tracey Emin.

"I have Crohn's disease, and it was impossible to make headway there, I needed to find a place kinder to me in lifestyle and finances."

With a smile on her face, Laura tells me that "someone from my working-class background, getting to have a studio provided by Tracey Emin…I’m very privileged."Looking to the future, Tracey says, "I haven’t got cancer anymore" and "I’m really quite positive actually."

"I’m excited for the future projects and what I am doing in Margate."

  • Online applications for Tracey Emin’s artists’ residency scheme are now open.