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Sue Coe
September 1, 2011 9:05 PM   Subscribe

Sue Coe, one of the most committed activist artists in America, has during her thirty-five-year career charted an idiosyncratic course through an environment that is at best ambivalent toward art with overt socio-political content.
posted by Trurl (27 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
For a second I thought this was about my aunt Sue until I remembered that she's on my mom's side and has never had that last name.

Anyway some of these are pretty great. Others I don't care for, but overall I am very enthusiastic about Coe's work. Thanks for the post.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:32 PM on September 1, 2011


"Prints range in price from $40.00 to $2,000.00, and original drawings and paintings start at around $1,000. Mixed media drawings 29" x 23" range in price from $3,500 to $6,000; those 30" x 40" range from $6,000 to $12,000. Exceptionally large works cost more, as do some early pieces."

She's not doing that badly then.
posted by joannemullen at 9:32 PM on September 1, 2011


I find Coe's politics quite reductive, but her work is really strong, and it isn't theatrical shock--it's smart work that suggests narratives without being that explicit about it.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:38 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


She is one of the greatest contemporary political artists, although I'm apparently not the only one that finds her obsession with humanity's cruelty to animals to be a one note song, given all the other human-on-human injustices in the world today. However, she is a genuine and skilled artist, and I would not gainsay her personal quest.
posted by kozad at 9:46 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


She certainly knows how to make you need to look away.
posted by grounded at 10:11 PM on September 1, 2011


This reminds me of anti-abortion 'art' that I used to see growing up in Ireland (where it remains illegal but certain people campaign against it anyway). The symbolism is so bluntly didactic that this seems more like graphic design than art to me, really.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:55 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Art mixes very poorly with politics, and worse - it gives the work a sheen of relevance that is almost always illusory. Not everyone can communicate a worldly issue through art like Picasso did with Guernica, but that doesn't stop every Joe Schmoe from trying. I never heard of her, but from just what saw from the links, her stuff looks quite pedestrian. Not my cup of tea.
posted by falameufilho at 12:32 AM on September 2, 2011


"Art mixes very poorly with politics, and worse - it gives the work a sheen of relevance that is almost always illusory.

That's not really true — there's a tremendous amount of great art that's political, either implicitly or explicitly, especially given the role of sub-altern counter-narratives in pomo art (i.e. contemporary). Further, the relevance may often be transitory, and even sometimes illusory, but to say "almost always" is nonsense. It's rarely directly effective, but if that's how you're measuring relevance, you're using the wrong yardstick.

Not everyone can communicate a worldly issue through art like Picasso did with Guernica, but that doesn't stop every Joe Schmoe from trying.

Not everyone can write an insightful comment about art, but it doesn't keep you from trying.

Not only was Guernica not a popular work when it was unveiled, it also failed to stop Franco. Further, I'm going to guess that someone has explained Guernica to you; there's plenty of other art that is overtly political that you may just not get.

I never heard of her, but from just what saw from the links, her stuff looks quite pedestrian. Not my cup of tea."

She's got fairly impressive draftsman skills and her work echoes expressionist postering compositions pretty effectively. It's not really my cup of tea either, but it seems as though you used your dislike for the message or general apathy/antipathy as if it's an objective evaluation of her work. As I said, it's not my cup of tea, but it's not really pedestrian.

(Anigbrowl's comment about graphic design is fairly apt, and a lot of her work does suffer from the didacticism of a true believer. I wish that she'd branch out into other topics because I think that she's got a strong sense of aesthetic, but I worry that without the animal rights passion animating her, her work could be pretty flat.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:55 AM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's also similar to American Broadsheets, and Mexican political work---if you want to go the design root. The paintings do have a kind of Goya tinge to them.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:21 AM on September 2, 2011


Art mixes very poorly with politics

That is just a completely mind-boggling statement. Art *is* politics, I'd argue. Not all of it, not always, but most of it, mostly.

Anyway, I think PinkMoose's first comment captures Sue Coe nicely. If you're stimulated by this kind of thing you might also want to check out Leon Golub's [pdf] thickly-layered-then-heavily-scraped paintings about torture, terror and war.
posted by mediareport at 5:15 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Passionate feelings about current affairs doesn't always translate into poignant images or worthwhile art, in my opinion. However her style seems to be uniquely identifiable as her own, and that's impressive.

The Goya comparison is a bit of stretch. Well... you did say tinge. No more than a tinge though


I suspect abattoirs don't allow people holding bolt guns to the ">heads of cows simultaneously talk on their cell phone. Titling the piece "He's on cell phone" kinda undermines her abilities as a non verbal communicator. An intentional lack of subtlety is one thing, clumsy draftsmanship and hackneyed titles are another.

I suspect that she's not only against meat consumption, but animal husbandry in general. Probably not alot of fun at parties.
posted by Hickeystudio at 5:29 AM on September 2, 2011


Probably not alot of fun at parties.

Who cares?

She is good at what she does, and is deeply committed to her art. I wish there were more artists like her in the artworld.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:38 AM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Art mixes very poorly with politics

I think it's important to distinguish between didactic art and much racking art. Coe very much sees herself as the latter -- as an artist whose are is a sort of journalism, witnessing injustice. And that can be enormously powerful, and I only need mention a few examples to demonstrate it: "Palestine" by Joe Sacco, "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair, "The Third of May 1808" by Goya.

Coe's "How to Commit Suicide in South Africa" was a terrifically important piece in the anti-Apartheid movement. It coupled text of the torture and death of South African activists with Coe's extraordinary illustrations, which visualized the events in a way that text alone could never have done.

As to whether she is fun at parties or not -- I've never met her, but I know a lot of political people who are utter blasts after hours. I don't think there is any reason to presume somebody is shrill or a bore just because one facet of their professional life deals with politics.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:33 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Probably not alot of fun at parties.

Who cares?


I certainly don't. It was a lighthearted comment, that apparently didn't read as such.

I make no presumption or judgement about any artist's life or personality that isn't directly related to the work itself. The single issue focus seems a bit myopic to me. The intention bears relation to Goya and Upton Sinclair for sure, but I think the execution itself falls far short of the mark, which is often the case with single-issue visual art.
posted by Hickeystudio at 7:46 AM on September 2, 2011


Could you explain what you mean by "single issue visual art." That is not a term I have heard before.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:56 AM on September 2, 2011


I've liked her work since I first saw it in the old East Village scene at P.P.O.W. She came in with the other Neo-Expressionists and I liked all of that other figurative work, which had followed what I found to be sort of exhausted modernist minimalism and conceptual art of the late 60's and early 70's. This work also shares a lot in common with WPA art, which is another area I like. Please keep the art-related posts on MeFi coming... thanks.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 8:22 AM on September 2, 2011


Goddamnit, that sticking I key has fucked me again.
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 AM on September 2, 2011


That is not a term I have heard before

I just came up with it. Lacks poetic zing, I know. Probably won't catch on. Words aren't my forte.

What I was trying to say is that most of her work that I've seen with this post directly addresses animal rights and slaughterhouses and such. She does this in a very direct way. Using compositions that I feel only marginally succeed some of the time. Coupled with titles that already belabor a point already made abundantly clear.

Whatever floats your boat. Her work just doesn't float mine.
posted by Hickeystudio at 10:36 AM on September 2, 2011


Coupled with titles that already belabor a point already made abundantly clear.

I think you may be reducing a complex subject down to a simple one. Her slaughterhouse images are very similar to Wiseman's documentary "Meat," although more expressionistic. She is in favor of animal rights, but she forwards her agenda through a visual presentation of factual images, as the images are drawn from her actual visits to slaughterhouses, as described in this story:

Since 1986, Coe has devoted her energies, more and more exclusively, to the defense of animals in industry, from factory farming to medical research and genetic engineering. Her dedication to animal rights began early; she grew up in a house adjacent to a slaughterhouse, with all of its associated sights and smells. From 1986 to 1992, Coe visited slaughterhouses in the United States, Canada, and England. Through associates who worked in the meat industry, she gained access to stockyard operations in Arizona, California, Missouri, Minnesota, Texas, and Montreal; a meatpacking plant in Los Angeles; a free-range cattle ranch in Utah; dairies in New Mexico; egg factories in North Carolina and Pennsylvania; and Kosher and Muslim slaughterhouses in New Jersey. Although cameras and videos were forbidden, Coe's sketchbook was usually considered harmless. When she was not allowed to sketch she made notes.

Her research resulted in a series she calls Porkopolis, after the slang term for Cincinnati, the first centralized meat-processing center in the US. Published in 1996 under the title Dead Meat, the series provides a detailed look at the American meat industry. Many of the images are gruesome and difficult to look at, depicting as they do practices employed in factory farms and slaughterhouses, practices that in many cases are unthinkable and well hidden in modern society. Other images—such as Modern Man Followed by the Ghosts of his Meat and Scientists Find a Cure for Empathy—use satire, sarcasm, or humor to inform.


I find her images to be troubling, but they are, in part, troubling because there is often uncertainty about allegiances. In the leftists community, union support is important, and organizing in meat packing plants has been an ongoing struggle, which this image seems to dramatize. And yet it's not clear whether the image supports the union organizers or sees them as part of the process of inhumane slaughter, or both.

Porkopolis is a pretty interesting work, and Coe's subsequent work is likewise interesting, because she is not merely an activist against animal cruelty, but sees the slaughterhouse as a microcosm of larger issues, including labor, technology, and poverty. It may not be to your tastes, which is fine, but I don't think she can be reduced to a single-issue artist.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:40 AM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


The points you raise have validity, but I think we're both looking at the same artist and seeing two different things. Your point of view seems to be centered around the subject that she's portraying and the power in the argument that she's utilizing the visuals to communicate. I hope that's not an oversimplification.

Her intentions being whatever they are is her concern, not mine. My only concern to the life of the forms she's sought to create. From the work that I've seen of hers so far, I'd venture that she gets my love about half the time.

I think this is rather beautiful. Bruegelish kinda feel, and deftly handled.

I think this is a turd most fragrant.
Overwrought, dreadful, and the title makes me want to throw the computer out the window. Chalk it up to a rough sketch that didn't work. No stranger to those myself.

I find her images to be troubling, but they are, in part, troubling because there is often uncertainty about allegiances.


I disagree. i think they're troubling because of the way she's handled the paint.

Tastes being subjective, bless us all in our differing points of view. The art posts on this site are among my favorites.

To clarify, the it's not the issues she raises that aren't to my taste. Quite the contrary - I feel strongly about many of the same things she does, and my views are congruent in many regards. What isn't to my taste is the overall shape many of her compositions, the handling of the mediums she employs isn't to my taste. I'm fairly certain she's done well thus far without my input, but I think she would do better to do do fewer pieces and spend more time of their execution. Quality, quantity and all that.
posted by Hickeystudio at 1:56 PM on September 2, 2011


First of all, this is an ill-constructed post. What links are we expected to follow, apart from all of them?

Sue Coe is better understood as a commercial illustrator, not a fine artist. She could also be understood in the late-20th-century tradition of graphic designers producing personal work. But fine artist or just artist? Either term fits rather poorly even if she sells her work.
posted by joeclark at 2:40 PM on September 2, 2011


What links are we expected to follow, apart from all of them?

If I didn't think they were all worth following, I wouldn't have linked to them.

If you followed one and weren't motivated to follow another, we can still be friends.
posted by Trurl at 3:15 PM on September 2, 2011


Sue Coe is better understood as a commercial illustrator, not a fine artist.

Weak. Why these two phrases are seen to be mutually exclusive eludes me.

Telling others how things should be understood is likewise toilet worthy. We're talking about art, not particle physics

I followed all the links. Woke up this morning unaware of Sue Coe's work. Will go to sleep knowing her work.

This benefits all of us, as far I can see.

Gratitude Trurl
posted by Hickeystudio at 4:32 PM on September 2, 2011


"Sue Coe is better understood as a commercial illustrator, not a fine artist."

Leaving aside whether or not I'm a big fan of her work/style, Sue Coe is not a commercial illustrator if she is not making commercial illustrations. Easy as that. Is she being given assignments to create reproducable imagery that's to be used to further support an outside interest's campaign/product/article/etc. or is her work self-directed? If it's the latter she is not a commercial illustrator, although you might call her style illustrative because it is narrative, representational, and follows traditional conventions.

"Weak. Why these two phrases are seen to be mutually exclusive eludes me. "

There are a number of differences between Commercial Illustration and Fine art.
posted by stagewhisper at 6:08 PM on September 2, 2011


There are a number of differences between Commercial Illustration and Fine art.

There's an extraordinary amount of crossover as well. I first became aware of Coe as a result of her work being published in Raw Magazine. Particularly with the American artists they published, there was a great deal of work they did that was inspired by, commented on, or even was intended as commercial art. Co-editor Art Spiegelman himself had spent years working at Topps supervising the design of novelty playing cards, and he went on to win a Pulitzer for Maus. A number of his comics for Raw were obsessed with the technical details of reproducing art, which directly related to his work at Topps.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:10 PM on September 2, 2011


There's an extraordinary amount of crossover as well.

Too true, which led my to comment on mutual exclusivity.

It just seems like the art world, or the world of artists, whatever you want to call it, is constrained by so many petty definitions and distinctions that other fields are spared. Example: One of of my oldest friends is a gifted musician. He's sold his melodies to companies for advertising, he's written songs for other, more popular artists, he's in several bands. Plays many instruments. Now, no one ever doubts or corrects him when he calls himself a professional musician.

Now I have known many commercial illustrators. People who have also sold fine art through gallery representation, done freelance commission work, and have even hired themselves out as a more talented pair of hands to other artists who don't manually create their own work.

Yet somehow some still find it open to question when these people call themselves fine artists, or professional artists, or simply Artists. So silly, really.
posted by Hickeystudio at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not only was Guernica not a popular work when it was unveiled, it also failed to stop Franco. Further, I'm going to guess that someone has explained Guernica to you; there's plenty of other art that is overtly political that you may just not get.

That's EXACTLY my point. You don't need to know that there once was a city named Guernica And that the Fascists bombed the shit out of it from the air, effectively creating a new modality of war from scratch. The work stand on its own. The work would be just as awesome even if there was no Guernica.

And that's one of the problems with overly political art: remove the context and the thing falls flat. And time always removes the context at some point, it is really effective in that matter.
posted by falameufilho at 9:15 PM on September 5, 2011


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