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 Sue Coe  (1952 - )

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: mod figure, animal, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
Sue Coe
from Auction House Records.
Let Them Eat Cake
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, Sue Coe, who had studied at the Royal College of Art in London, emigrated to the United States in 1972.   She settled in New York City from where she has established a reputation as a sociopolitical artist, mostly doing charcoal drawings.  Her work references a wide range of 'not-easy-on-the-eyes' issues including the Ku Klux Klan, sweatshop conditions, animal rights, petroleum industry violations, apartheid, women's rights and AIDS.  Her goal is to educate her viewers and not to please them aesthetically.

In 1983, her book, How to Commit Suicide in South Africa, was published and became a tool for dissuading people from investing in companies with stock in South Africa.  A second book, (1986) The Life and Times of Malcolm X, contributed to the resurging popularity of that Black-American political leader.  From 1986, her focus has been the meatpacking industry.  For research to provide visual impact, she toured slaughterhouses extensively in the United States, Canada and England, and was able to do numerous sketches even though cameras and videos were forbidden.  Resulting was her book Dead Meat (1996), which had numerous images intended to show the disgusting, gruesome side of slaughterhouses and factory farms.  Coe has labelled the image series for this book as Porkopolis after the first central meat processing center in the United States, located in Cincinnati.

Sue Coe began her career in America as an illustrator for the op-ed page of The New York Times, and since that time has had drawings in many publications such as The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Artforum.

Most of her charcoal drawings are intended to be devoid of her personality in order to free the viewer to focus on the subject.  However, an exception is a series, The Last 11 Days, which she made of her sixty-four year old mother dying of cancer.  To honor her mother's wishes to die at home, Coe and her sister returned to Liverpool, England to be with her.  Of this experience, Coe said that her mother was of a stoic generation that seldom revealed their true feelings and that she died as she lived.  Emphasizing emotional isolation, the resulting drawings are a "sharp contrast between the heavily worked charcoal and the empty paper background . . ."(Folan 20).  These drawings also reveal an emotional disconnect or tension between Coe and the situation in that the artist, doing a drawing each day, was able to document the decline scientifically and objectively while being much involved emotionally.  In 2005-2006, the series was a feature exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC.

Sources include:
David Winton Bell Gallery, Providence Rhode Island
Kerry Kathleen Folan, "Sue Coe: The Last 11 Days', Women in the Arts, Holiday 2005, pp. 18-21


Biography from Galerie St. Etienne:
Born in Tamworth (Staffordshire), and educated at the Royal College of Art in London, Sue Coe emigrated to the United States in 1972.  Settling in New York City, she initially pursued a career as an illustrator for such publications as the New York Times and Time magazine.

Finding her editorial assignments too constraining, however, she soon began doing extended series of larger paintings and drawings on subjects of her own choosing.  She became something of a "star" of the East Village scene in the early 1980s, with works depicting such notorious current events as Bernard Goetz's subway shooting and the rape of a women on a pooltable in a New Bedford, MA, bar. (The latter painting is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.)

Coe's first book-length series, How to Commit Suicide in South Africa (1983), was used as an anti-apartheid organizing tool on college campuses nationwide.  She has since published illustrated books on Malcolm X (X, 1986), the meat industry (Dead Meat, 1996) and related animal rights subjects (Pit's Letter, 2000).

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