For a year during treatment for bladder cancer, in which she thought she would die, Tracey Emin could not paint.
Then, in a release of energy and emotion, she created Like a Cloud of Blood, a deeply intimate representation of her experiences.
The painting was about recovery, she said on Thursday. “I loved it and I thought I’d keep it for ever.”
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’ centre in Margate.
Christie’s, the auction house handling next month’s sale, estimate it will fetch up to £700,000, which will add to the £2m Emin has already spent on buying and refurbishing a former Edwardian bathhouse, mortuary and children’s nursery in the Kent seaside town where she grew up.
Her aim is to foster emerging and aspiring artists. “To succeed as an artist is such a rare thing – especially for a woman, especially for someone of my background. All the 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 for Tracey Karima Emin) will provide workspace for 15 artists, including painters, ceramicists and sculptors. “They all have interesting stories and backgrounds,” said Emin.
“Most artists in big cities are being chased out by developers. Margate is welcoming artists and their creative energy.”
The artists will pay modest rent for the generous, light-filled studios, which will include heating and wifi and will be open 24 hours a day.
The space will include a bookshop selling “unusual books that you’d normally have to order”, and exhibition and events space. “We’ll have talks, lectures, film screenings,” said Emin.
“It will be a hub. Art can be very isolating when you work alone. Lots of people work in studios for years without ever talking to anyone. Here people will exchange ideas, discuss their work.”
In January, up to 20 aspiring artists will join Emin’s artists’ residency scheme for an 18-month course, comprising a year of tuition and six months of preparation for a show. Online applications open next week.
“The people coming to teach are phenomenal,” she said. They include Jake Chapman, who will lecture on art and politics, Rachel Whiteread, Vivienne Westwood and the Guardian’s art critic, Jonathan Jones. Instead of a fee, they will be remunerated with a drawing by Emin.
The students will also attend talks by accountants, picture framers and curators. “No one’s going to make it without practical advice,” said Emin.
There will be no charge to students for tuition or studio space, but they will have to fund their living expenses. “But being an art student in Margate is a lot cheaper than in London,” said Emin.
“When I was ill, and I thought I was going to die, I thought: what am I here for, what’s it all about? If one person here makes it as an artist, then I’ve done my job.”
Emin returned to live in Margate in 2017 and works from her own studios close to the TKE Studios. “I came back to Margate as a different person, and I came back to a different Margate. Everybody here gives me space, there’s nothing pretentious here.”
The town has seen a revival in recent years, with an influx of people moving from London in search of cheaper property and a more relaxed lifestyle. The seafront Turner Contemporary art gallery opened in 2011, and a host 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 freewoman of the town in recognition of her work as an artist and her investment in Margate.
She had surgery for bladder cancer in 2020, involving the removal of her bladder, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, part of her colon, urethra and part of her vagina. She was given the all-clear after a recent scan.