For a year under treatment for bladder cancer, during 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 was going to 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 next month’s sale, estimates it will fetch up to £700,000, adding to the £2m Emin has already spent buying and refurbishing a former Edwardian bath house, mortuary and nursery in the seaside town of Kent where she grew up.
Her goal is to nurture emerging and ambitious artists. “Success as an artist is such a rare thing – especially for a woman, especially for someone with 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 the arts, education and in Margate.”
The new TKE Studios (named after Tracey Karima Emin) will provide work space for 15 artists, including painters, potters and sculptors. “They all have interesting stories and backgrounds,” Emin said.
“Most artists in big cities are chased out by developers. Margate welcomes artists and their creative energy.”
The artists pay modest rent for the generous, light-filled studios, which include heating and Wi-Fi and will be open 24 hours a day.
The space will include a bookstore selling “unusual books that you usually have to order,” and exhibition and event space. “We will have talks, lectures, film screenings,” Emin said.
“It will be a hub. Art can be very isolating when you work alone. Many work in studios for years without speaking to anyone. Here people want to exchange ideas, discuss their work.”
In January, up to 20 aspiring artists will join Emin’s artist residency scheme for an 18-month course, consisting of a year of teaching and six months of preparation for a show. 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 the Guardian’s art critic, Jonathan Jones. Instead of a fee, they will be rewarded with a draw by Emin.
The students will also attend lectures by accountants, picture framers and curators. “No one is going to make it without practical advice,” Emin said.
Students will not be charged for tuition or studio space, but they must cover their living costs. “But being an art student in Margate is a lot cheaper than in London,” Emin said.
“When I was sick, and I thought I was going to die, I thought: what am I here for, what is it all about? If one person here succeeds as an artist, then I have done my job.”
Emin returned to live in Margate in 2017 and works from his own studios near TKE Studios. “I came back to Margate a different person and I came back to a different Margate. Everyone here gives me space, there is 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. Turner Contemporary art gallery by the sea opened in 2011, and a number 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 free woman of the town in recognition of her work as an artist and her investment in Margate.
She underwent surgery for bladder cancer in 2020, including 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.