And I can see the faded glory of a Victorian seaside escape. Where the wealthy would escape from London to take the sea air and maybe visit the mysterious Shell grotto. I imagine ladies bustling in full-skirted, long white frothy dresses, with parasols. I think about the London they were escaping, of pollution, busyness, Poor Laws and hard work. Perhaps a London I imagine, and at this point I generally wish I’d studied more history. But the grand old buildings are still there, I see them imposing and proud, despite the march of time. And nestled in the old frontages, I can see the Wimpy bar, still open and the neon lights of the arcades.
And it’s the neon, slightly scuzzy round-the-edges, not quite so picture-perfect Margate, that makes me think of Tracey Emin. She’s the other person I always think of in Margate. Her and Turner. Some things they have in common: they both hustled their way from humble beginnings, pioneered their own techniques and approach, ignored expectations, shocked the establishment and achieved fantastic commercial success in their own lifetime.
But for me, there’s something more about Emin. I feel this huge gratitude for the brutally honest work she has put out into the world. She’s bold and brave and unapologetic. When I’m in Margate I always feel that bit closer to her and admire her all the more. Her art is about life and love, and not the picture-postcard version. It’s gritty and real and female. And she took that into the, suffocatingly male art world of the 1990’s – definitely one of my artist heroes.