Tracey Emin was unable to paint for a year while undergoing treatment for her bladder cancer, which she thought was dying.
Then, in a release of energy and emotion, she created Like a Cloud of Blood, a deeply intimate depiction of her experiences.
The painting is about recovery, she said on Thursday. “I loved it and thought I would keep it forever.”
But Emin, who made her name as one of the Young British Artists of the 1980s and is now a Royal Academician, is selling the work to raise money for her new art school and artists’ center in Margate.
Christie’s, the auction house handling the sale next month, estimates it will fetch up to £700,000, which is on top of the £2million Emin has already spent on the purchase and refurbishment of a former Edwardian bathhouse, mortuary and Kindergarten in the seaside town of Kent where she grew up.
Their goal is to nurture emerging and emerging artists. “To be successful as an artist is such a rare thing – especially for a woman, especially for someone from my background. All odds were stacked against me,” she told the Guardian.
“But now I have everything I need and want and I want to invest in art, education and in Margate.”
The new TKE Studios (named after Tracey Karima Emin) will provide workspace for 15 artists including painters, ceramists and sculptors. “They all have interesting stories and backgrounds,” Emin said.
“Most artists in big cities are being chased away by developers. Margate welcomes artists and their creative energy.”
The artists pay a modest rent for the spacious, light-filled studios, which include heating and WiFi and will be open 24 hours a day.
The space will include a bookstore that sells “unusual books that you would normally have to order,” as well as exhibition and event spaces. “We will have talks, lectures, film screenings,” Emin said.
“It’s going to be a hub. Art can be very isolating when you work alone. A lot of people work in studios for years without ever speaking to anyone. Here people exchange ideas and discuss their work.”
In January, up to 20 emerging artists join Emin’s artist residency program for an 18-month course that includes a year of classes and six months of preparation for an exhibition. Online applications open next week.
“The people who come to teach are phenomenal,” she said. They include Jake Chapman, who will lecture on art and politics, Rachel Whiteread, Vivienne Westwood and Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones. Instead of a fee, they are rewarded with a draw from Emin.
Students will also attend lectures by accountants, picture framers and curators. “No one will make it without practical advice,” Emin said.
Students are not charged for tuition or studio space, but they must fund their living expenses. “But being an art student in Margate is a lot cheaper than in London,” said Emin.
“When I was sick and I thought I was going to die, I thought: what am I here for, what is all this for? If someone makes it here as an artist, then I’ve done my job.”
Emin returned to Margate in 2017 and works from her own studios near TKE Studios. “I returned to Margate as a different person, and I returned to a different Margate. Everyone here gives me space, nothing is pretentious here.”
The city has experienced a revival in recent years, with an influx of people moving away from London in search of cheaper property and a more relaxed lifestyle. The seaside Turner Contemporary Art Gallery opened in 2011 and a variety of smaller galleries, vintage shops, boutique hotels and hip cafes and restaurants have attracted visitors and new residents.
Last month Emin was made an honorary citizen of Margate in recognition of her work as an artist and her investment in Margate.
She underwent surgery for bladder cancer in 2020, which removed her bladder, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, part of her colon, urethra and part of her vagina. After a recent scan, she was given the all-clear.