Tracey Emin review
Surprisingly sober and grown up

It is unusual to know more about an artist's sexual history than about their artistic abilities, even in the libertine world of contemporary art. But when it comes to Tracey Emin, we are more likely to be able to tell you exactly what her crumpled bedsheets looks like, than talk about her inimitable drawing style. Now a 45-year-old Royal Academician, Emin has decided to recast herself as a serious draughtswoman with a new solo show and a coffee-table book, One Thousand Drawings, published by Rizzoli. However, as her display at the White Cube reassures us, the Margate-raised artist is not ready to make her bed just yet.

The show opens with an animation of a woman masturbating. It is made from 150 of Emin's monoprints of an anonymous woman whose head is out of sight, legs akimbo. As you walk into the main room of the gallery's grand Mason's Yard premises, an ethereal green light emanates from a handwritten neon sign, which reads "Those Who Suffer Love" - the exhibition's overblown, romantic title. Opposite, her 30-second film flickers on constant replay. The woman pictured, oblivious to our presence, writhes energetically in a seemingly never-ending quest for satisfaction. At first, it chimes with Woody Allen's famous adage: "Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone you love." But Emin, being Emin, is the first to remind us that sex of any sort is never straightforward.

This candid display is typical of an artist whose sexual experience has informed her 20-year career. However, when asked recently if this woman was Emin herself, the artist's response was typically frank: "I wish." Her faceless masturbator is in fact an emancipated everywoman. Feminism in motion.
And although there is an initial titillation factor, the animation ultimately speaks more of the artist than its erotic content. After a few seconds, the subject matter is superseded by the energy generated by the jumbled mass of spindly, jagged lines. The monoprint, with its charming unpredictability is Emin's favourite graphic medium; brought to vigorous life here, the accidentally decorous ink burrs dart and dance like an animated artistic spirit. Even those who scoffed at her Turner Prize bed, and the now incinerated tent, will find this work hard to dismiss.

Downstairs, pages from Emin's monoprint diaries, on yellowing rough-book paper, hang in clusters on the walls. The sketches, doodles and trademark statements about love and abandonment provide a recap of the themes that have shaped her artistic output.

There are, however, some surprises. We all know about the abortions, rapes and promiscuity - but who knew she was into insects? Religious iconography? Standing in front of this wilfully obscure stream of consciousness for any length of time is a bit like coming across the diary of a deranged teenager. But Emin isn't far off 50, and is professedly happier with life than she has ever been. She even appears to be conquering the downturn; January was her most successful sale period so far.

As if to mark this, the feel of the show is, dare I say it, rather sober and grown-up. Those trademark colourful appliqué works, emblazoned with brash statements, are nowhere to be seen. The needlework on display here is stark; the fabric backgrounds, ranging from remnant squares to bed-sized blankets, are uniformly beige. The female nudes, magnified versions of her drawings, are sewn on in black thread of varying thicknesses. Some crouching, some almost hanging, some scribbled over, they invariably speak of loneliness and suffering.

Emin's recognisably edgy, agitated line - which at times has a feel in common with automatic writing, or Outsider Art - translates surprisingly well into stitch. The resulting sparseness of these vulnerable figures, caught against cosy blanketing surrounds is arresting.

Some of the smaller more intimate works recall grandmother's samplers, but are embroidered with Emin-ish musings such as "Mad, Mad, Mad". The stiff capital lettering, stitched in the dusky pink thread of sympathy cards, recalls the style of engraving found on tombstones. These self-consciously homespun pieces evoke longing and loss. Love, says Emin, like the old floral material used here for an appliquéd wreath, fades.

But it is not all needlework and blankets. The garish neons are reminders that Emin is not about to ditch cowboy boots and fishnets just yet. These handwritten messages in rock-n-roll pink are disappointingly banal - like sub-standard Lily Allen lyrics, or the sort of lovelorn scribbling you might find embellishing a 13-year-old's lever-arch file. Although pretty, they are the only works in the show that jar.

Corny romantic statements aside, this is a strong show about the power of line. Her art-school teacher famously told Emin that drawing was not her strong point: "Some of us have got it, ducks, and some of us haven't. And let's face it, you haven't." Two decades later, this is a triumphant riposte to that.

Until July 4