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Tracey Emin

Hellter Fucking Skelter

Tracey Emin

Hellter Fucking Skelter, 2001

Price upon request

A riot of colour, pattern and words, Hellter Fucking Skelter (2001) affirms Tracey Emin as a master storyteller and savant of the complex muddle of human emotions. With bold cut-out lettering appliquéd onto a composite blanket, each element of which has been painstakingly stitched by hand, Emin presents a series of often tragi-comic anecdotes, proclamations and aphorisms, to form a viscerally honest emotional journey. It is a journey that, in its very form, enfolds the viewer within the dissonant mindscape of the artist’s psyche. Hellter Fucking Skelter attests to what is foundational in Emin’s practice; actualised through textile, drawing, neon or painting, her uncoded, revelatory and diaristic voice inextricably binds words to images, her life to her art.

Explore Tracey Emin's Hellter Fucking Skelter, 2001, with Associate Director Louisa Sprinz

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Listen: Curator Sue Prichard

discusses Hellter Fucking Skelter (2001)
(duration 8:18)

Tracey Emin, Hotel International, 1993
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2024. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography. Courtesy White Cube

Tracey Emin at the Gramercy Park Hotel, New York, for the Gramercy International Art Fair, 1994
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2024. Photo: Steve Brown

The first appliquéd blanket Emin made, titled Hotel International, was shown in 1993 in her career-launching solo exhibition ‘My Major Retrospective’, at the original White Cube, in Duke Street, St. James’s, London. Named after the hotel owned and run by her father and mother, its primary fabric component was Emin’s childhood blanket, onto which she stitched fragments from old clothing to record the names of those individuals and places most important to her. Drawing on profoundly intimate memories and using fabrics that carried deep personal meaning, Hotel International initiated a body of work produced over an approximate 15-year period, with Emin’s appliquéd blankets heralding a type of self-portraiture unique to the artist’s ongoing practice: the knotted tapestry of love and desire, loss and grief, pain and rage, vulnerability and resilience.

‘I sold the first blanket, Hotel International (1993), in 1994 in New York. It was displayed on my bed at the Gramercy Park Hotel with me inside the bed. [...] When it sold, I curled up in bed with it tucked around me and cried at the idea of it going away. A lot of love had gone into it [...] quilt-making involves a lot of thought and love.’

— Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin’s Hellter Fucking Skelter (2001) and Self-portrait (2001), installed as part of the exhibition ‘Tracey Emin: You Forgot to Kiss My Soul’, White Cube Hoxton Square, London, 27 April – 26 May 2001
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2024. Photo: Stephen White. Courtesy White Cube

The helter skelter at ‘Dreamland’, Margate, UK, 1958
John Hutchinson Collection. Courtesy The Dreamland Heritage Trust

Hellter Fucking Skelter was first exhibited as part of Emin’s acclaimed solo exhibition ‘You Forgot to Kiss My Soul’ at White Cube Hoxton Square, London, in 2001, where it was showcased alongside the artist’s monumental sculpture, Self-portrait, which recreated in reclaimed timber the helter skelter ride at the theme park ‘Dreamland’ in Margate, the English seaside town where Emin spent her teenage years. Characteristic of Emin’s appliquéd blankets, Hellter Fucking Skelter summons a maelstrom of emotions – searing truths and gnawing paranoias – as if caught mid-thought in the weft and weave of the very fabric of the work. The title of this piece is emblazoned across the top section, against a colourful background of patchwork squares, introducing the clashing panels of material appliquéd to the rest of the surface of the blanket, which in turn carry fragments of thoughts: ‘Burn in hell’; ‘You see, it’s a spirial [sic] which goes down’; ‘You know who you are’. As Emin stated in the press release accompanying the show: ‘It does not matter how good things are – how good life is – it only takes one little knock, to start the never-ending downward spiral, for me every moment of reality is a balance.’

Tracey Emin, ‘Tracey Emin Museum’, Waterloo Road, London, 1997
© Johnnie Shand Kydd. All rights reserved, DACS/Armitage 2024. Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd

Tracey Emin’s Hellter Fucking Skelter (2001), seen in the artist’s studio, Wentworth Street, London, 2001
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2024. Photo: Tracey Emin

‘Emin's blankets are voice-works. It's as if they were hung out and caught language as it passed through them, from tiny details to huge declaration […] it’s one of the brilliances in Emin, that she seems to speak with one voice at the same time as with many […]’

— ALI SMITH, ‘Emin’s Emendations’, in Tracey Emin: Love Is What You Want, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, 2011, p.27

Detail of Hellter Fucking Skelter

Text has long been foundational to Emin’s practice, used in paintings, monoprints, neon and sculpture, as in her seminal work, Everyone I have ever slept with, 1963–1995 (1995). The words populating Hellter Fucking Skelter run in multiple directions, creating neural connections through an interplay of the letters that form words, that form sentences – the whole resolving into a complex collage of colour and pattern. Emin has reflected on the spontaneity of her process: ‘I’d begin sewing a sentence and then realise I couldn’t get the last word in, and then I’d have to put it in the middle and move everything around, so it was much more like painting’. During a period in her practice when Emin felt painting had forsaken her, the blankets served as a canvas on which she could freely draw and write, playing with colour, shape and composition without the weight of the history of painting to constrain her. Hellter Fucking Skelter demands intimate and prolonged study – akin to a poetic stream of consciousness where one shape, one thought, one feeling replaces another. The resultant ambiguity engenders both unease and liberation, offering the freedom of an almost endless process of rewriting, which, in turn, invites a continual visual editing by the viewer that can become almost cathartic.

Tracey Emin, Pysco Slut, 1999
Collection SFMOMA, California
© Tracey Emin All rights reserved, DACS 2024. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography. Courtesy White Cube

Tracey Emin, Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing, 2004
Collection TATE, London
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2024.
Photo: Stephen White. Courtesy White Cube

Emin’s appliquéd blankets – many of which are now held in major museum collections including Tate, London; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney – elevate the humble craft of needle and thread to a monumental art form. Uniting masterful craftsmanship with a galvanising authenticity of voice, Hellter Fucking Skelter forms a compelling repository of the artist’s innermost self – disarmingly candid, confrontational and vulnerable, resonant with lived experiences. Hellter Fucking Skelter was included in the artist’s celebrated retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 2011. Another of Emin’s appliquéd blankets was recently shown as part of the exhibition ‘Unravel’, at the Barbican in London, which closed in May of this year.

Tracey Emin

Hellter Fucking Skelter, 2001

Price upon request

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin, Fashion Street, London, 2000

© Johnnie Shand Kydd. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2024. Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd

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White Cube’s original gallery opened in 1993, in the heart of central London at 44 Duke street, St James’s. At just under sixteen metres squared, its proportions encouraged an intimate, focused encounter with a single important work of art or body of work. It is this experience that informs the presentations for the Salon programme.

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