Working primarily in drawing and printmaking, Sue Coe is a British-American artist and activist known for her graphic depictions of political events and cultural figures, which adopt the visual language of propaganda—in the artist’s words, “to propagate ideas.” Including drawn and painted works on paper from the early 1980s onwards, this exhibition surveys a range of Coe’s subjects over time, which remain highly recognizable and as pressing today as when these works were made. Coe renders her imagery in a stark, bold black and white, punctuated by red and often accompanied by text. The works on view deal with events including trade union strikes, the KKK, the 1973 police killing of 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez, the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987, cultural figures like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, and the devastation of 9/11. There is a direct and lucid quality to Coe’s portrayal of these events in terms to both figuration and emotion. Through her work, Coe takes up the power in looking, delivering the image face to face.
Coe grew up in close proximity to a slaughterhouse, from where she could hear and smell the processing of animals for meat. The experience catalyzed her lifelong activism for animal rights—one which is deeply interconnected with her wider political activism. Where permitted, she spent time drawing from life inside of slaughterhouses, seeking to truthfully depict what she saw. This process of witnessing in-person and recording from experience is distinct throughout her work. In time, Coe has configured a mode of visual reportage with commentary that dips into the vernacular of propaganda, conveying the truth of both subject and statement as immediately as possible. Some works present full landscapes of humanity in moments of transformation or crisis, and in others the same is shown through a single scene. Others, still, approach a more surrealist method, turning to a closer collage-like composition of details. Brought forward, these works confirm the power of witnessing together, over the weight of doing so in isolation. As Coe says, “Drawing reveals intimacy of shared time.”
Sue Coe (b. 1951, Staffordshire, England) studied at the Royal College of Art in London before emigrating to New York in 1972. Coe’s work has been exhibited at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Drawing Center, New York; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus OH; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh PA; and Pompidou Center, Paris. Coe’s works are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Walker Art Center, Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard Art Museums, Birmingham Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, among others. In 2018, MoMA PS1 presented Sue Coe: Graphic Resistance.
All works © Sue Coe.
Presented in collaboration with Galerie St. Etienne.
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