During the course of this Essay, the
theme will be based on the comparison of two artists and their psyches at the
time of creating their now famous art pieces, the first comparison being
analysed is the work of the highly controversial young artist Tracey Emin, and
her distinctly unique self-representing art installation titled ‘My Bed’ that
was first created in 1998, Created in her seedy, run down and generally
depressing council flat in the Waterloo Neighbourhood of Central London. The
second artist being compared is Vincent van Gogh and his similar ironically
controversial painting ‘Chair’. Created in 1888 the emotionally engaging and thought-provoking
Both artists Emin and Van Gogh
likewise, are well known for their exceptional works of art being having the
ability to be emotionally challenging and thought provoking, while being deeply
engaging at the same time with the viewer. When both artists unique and
distinct pieces of art, are brought under close inspection what immediately
stands out from both, are the similarities as to how both artists approached
the pieces of artwork in question while reflecting the dark depressing mentally
challenging periods in their lives, how they both as artists deal with mental
health breakdowns at that point of time in their lives and as such created
Emin’s ‘My Bed’ and Van Gogh’s ‘Chair’ as their chosen vessel of cathartic
therapy in the form of psychological coping mechanisms which is reflected in
their style of autobiographical self-portraiture shown at its truest and most
Questions that will emerge during this
Essay will include; Does the artists self-representations of personal artworks
show us a complete insight into their true psyches and are the pieces of
artworks being described as their own self-portraits rightly so?
Emins “my bed” was created in 1998 out
of her council flat in the Waterloo area of London, The Iconic and extremely
controversial art installation offers the viewer a truly realistic,
uncompromising, unedited, insight the likes of never seen before into the then 35-year
olds troubled and turbulent life after a traumatic failed relationship, which
resulted in a deep depression setting in and the inevitable mental health
breakdown that ensued, from which the work of art was born.
insight to the artists psyche at the time could be gauged by the fact that Emin
had described the work as looking like a ‘crime scene’ where someone has been
brutally and sexually attacked” (Brown. 2006)
Emin uses her own personal bed, exactly
as is unmade, unkempt, dirty and stained to create the extraordinary work of
art that expresses her deepest, raw and impure emotions of an extremely
troubled time in her personal life, that creates a connection so powerful
between both her troubled personal and professional lives, that clearly
demonstrates her extraordinarily talented ability to develop a deep emotional
connection with the viewing audience.
In doing this Emin provides an insight
to her most vulnerable deepest inner emotions, Her bed is captured as a true
self reflecting, autobiographical and confessional self-portrait, In its most
real form, Her bed being in a crude and embarrassing state complete with
stained yellowing sheets, a pair of dirty slippers, used condoms, a pregnancy
test, a tampon, cartons of cigarette ends, discarded soiled underwear, a packet
of birth control pills and a lot of empty bottles of vodka, creased unmade bed.
takes those experiences, loss, betrayal, vengefulness and abuse and makes them
available to the rest of us. She transforms them into something incredibly
powerful.” (Hobson, 2011:7)
Her bed being a very private, intimate
and personal space in a filthy, disgusting shambolic state, is a stark contrast
to what the expectations of a young woman’s ideal real-world expectations would
‘My Bed’ portrays a real-world sense of
intense unhappiness, imperfection, anxiety and insecurity.
Emin who is known as the bad girl of
British Art, was a member of The
Young British Artists, a group who met in London in the late 80s, The YBA known
for their entrepreneurial business sense, use of shock tactics, and wild
parties during their 90s. The most financially successful members are now some
of the richest artists in the world.
The YBAs were famous for their keen eagerness to
shock with violent imagery, the use of pornography, and their need to push the
limits of decency to extremes.
Emins failure to win the Turner prize in 1999 came
as no surprise, her reason being was she blamed her foul mouth and
uncontrollable behaviour, Emin told the press during interview that she was a
brilliant loser and that she knew she wouldn’t win as art was not her strongest
point in life.
Appalling both the press and likewise the critics
at the same time, Emin’s failure to win the Turner prize, ironically in turn
made “My Bed” the world-famous art installation it now is.
Similarity, Van Gogh’s painting Chair 1888, Has
also made use of the simplicity of a mundane everyday piece of household
furniture as his subject, strategically placed in isolation the solitude Chair
without any hint what so ever of its user, emotionally thought provoking,
instigating a deep sense of intense sadness and uncontrollable loss is
instilled in the viewer.
Likewise, as with ‘My Bed’, ‘Chair’ is a self-representing
autobiographical piece of artwork that successfully portrays a mundane every
day piece of furniture and pushes it well beyond the boundaries of still life,
so that it in turn becomes a representation of the psyche of Van Gogh himself.
The use of Emin’s personal and intimate items in
her work, Van Gogh’s has also included his own personal and intimate items in
his work this is exemplified by his smoking pipe and tobacco on the chair, He
has also signed his name into the background crate which creates an intensely
personalised object which presents an intriguing welcoming expression and not
just an object of furniture that is just a chair.
Created by Van Gogh, a loner in 1888 “Chair” is a
direct pendant to the painting by Gauguin’s Chair, Gauguin created the painting
at the same time Van Gogh Created Chair.
The relationship between fellow painters Gauguin
and Van Gogh had started to become troubled and extremely strained, Van Gogh
was conscious of the fact that his ambitious dream to collaborate and share a
studio with Gauguin was becoming an increasing inevitable that it was just a
dream, as such that dream would not materialise, The sadness Van Gogh
experienced which was caused by this rapidly disintegrating relationship of
which he had no control over, created the situation that caused him to embrace
their differences in ingenious juxtaposition by portraying both their chairs,
In which Van Gogh’s is a stark contrast to Gauguin’s Chair. The two paintings
are complete opposites of artworks Gauguin’s Chair being a highly polished,
Dark brown luxurious wooden arm chair with a beautifully curved back, Well-built
and a lot more sturdy than Van Gogh’s, The warm inviting contrasting colours
compared with Van Gogh’s cold and unappealing blue and Yellows and
Gauguin’s use of the inviting reds, browns and greens, creating a warmth and a
feeling of luxurious quality master craftsmanship to it, The candle burning
bright and the stack of books on the inviting green cushion symbolises the
feeling of an absent painter in the way similar to Van Gogh’s own Chair.
stresses structure through emphatic outlines, added later, that serve to
contain areas of pure painting. The strength of these increases the impact of
the image. But also creates a certain tension between line and colour. Van Gogh
imposed his own personality upon the work stressing the subjectivity of his
view” (Dorn, 1997 80)
Van Gogh’s painting ‘Chair’ is a
a single lonely rustic wooden chair, with a simple woven straw seat, on a red
tiled floor. On the chair seat is a decorated smoking pipe and a pouch of pipe
tobacco. Portrayed in its most simplistic basic, sad, depressing state and
completely void with no hint of its user in sight.
This is a self-autobiographical
representation of Van Gogh’s own perception of how he sees himself. His entire
life he preferred the company of the simple working-class people as opposed to
the company of the rich and the wealthy aristocrats as Van Gogh considered
himself much more comparable to the fabric of the hard-working peasants he so
In conclusion Van
Gogh’s uses very similar thought provoking and eye-catching techniques in the
same way Emin does, by the ingenious use of her own personal items to introduce
and invite the viewers eye over the installation and in turn open up the
viewers own questioning thought processes about the artwork.
The smoking pipe,
the pouch of tobacco and the handkerchief draw a focus to the painting in both
its narrative and pictorial sense, the use of colours, the blue outlining parts
of the chair, and the contrasting warm hues all increase the deeply depressing
and lonely nature of the painting. The autobiographical painting of Van Gogh’s self-portrait
as he explains to his brother that was symbolic of the loss of partnership with
The similarities of
both art pieces certainly feel like an uninvited uncomfortable invasion of privacy
into the psychological mindsets of both artists, Emin’s work unashamedly
expresses her own insight into her darkest deepest depression with the
intentions of mind blowing thought provocation and a self-reflection in the
viewer, it’s a stark juxtaposition of the female stereo typical clean bed
that’s expected. Emins bed showing all the signs of blood sweat and tears of
probably sadness, Where as a typical bed would be the destination of rest, a
zen of relaxation, pleasure and happiness.
Emins work speaks
suggestively of a psyche plagued by a cluttered, insecure, self-doubting, self-neglecting,
withdrawn and one full of shame.
aftermath of a lost weekend which itself is a true reflection
Off the beds
occupant psychological feelings of being lost and helplessness.
There are threads
showing obvious similarities between Emin’s My Bed and Van Gogh’s Chair, both
displaying personal items that belong to the artists such as Van Gogh’s
description of himself by showing his personal items like his smoking pipe and
tobacco pouch placed on the solitary simply chair and the rustic box of onions
in the background with his name on which reflects his own psyche, With his
trademark signature colour yellow plays great significance predominantly.
appreciation must be drawn to the emphasis on the similarities that both
extremely personal items and objects have been used so imaginatively and
cleverly, both pieces of art have been created with the most simplistic pieces
of everyday household furniture of which both pieces showing the highly
symbolic absence of their owners, in doing so the empty spaces create negative
space in the images which instil in the viewer intense sadness, loneliness and
a complex array of mental health issues.
They both invoke an
enormous emotional thought process and expression of insecurity, Completely
removed, devoid and completely unconnected from their everyday intended use and
function as a bed and a chair respectively, Both pieces of art are true self
representation autobiographical art pieces of extraordinary self-portraits with
the use of the most basic of household objects, Juxtaposing far beyond their
intended uses that clearly represent the psyches in its most in depth insight
possible of the artist themselves.