In the press release for Mad as Hell! New Work (and some Classics) at Galerie St. Etienne, running April 17 through July 3, 2012, Sue Coe is compared to Kathe Kollwitz, Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, and Barbara Kruger. There are similarities in subject to these artists – like Kollwitz, her art features dark, oppressive subject matter depicting the revolts and uprisings of contemporary relevance. Images of death, war and injustice dominate Coe’s art. She marks her work with defiant text, like Barbara Krugar, sounding out the voices of the oppressed. But it is in their spirit that her work is truly revealed. Coe’s drawings have an unruly appetite for truth, as she bears witness to a broad scope of brutality. She does not hide away from painful actualities nor garnish them beyond recognition. There is a sensitivity, but also a definitive and strong hand. Her depictions are sometimes graphic, evoking a history of revolutionary propaganda. Others lurk in shadowy subtlety — but all are soul-wrenching.
“My job is to expose what is concealed. I share information, the science, the economics and try to represent the voice of those beings not in the room: the animal voice.”
As pointed out on The Discerning Brute before, Sue Coe brings the same passion, found in her visual art, to her writings and talks. At gallery reception which I attended, Coe sat on the floor, regaling a crowd with stories of brutality and injustice, but most of all, with hope. She spoke on growing up near a slaughter house and how later in life she found veganism through witnessing the atrocities of the modern meat market. She began drawing to help educate people about what was really happening. She spoke on corruption and inequality and how it might be righted through ethical living.
Sue Coe dedicates her life, in art and activism, to a vegan cause. She is strong and resilient in her beliefs, but not everyone sees eye to eye. Even at her events, vegans and non-vegans may not agree on how to commit to minimizing animal exploitation in their own lives. But, with great poise, Coe stays true to her central belief of compassion. She believe we all have our blind spots, “no matter how aware we are, we are still seeing the world through the limited prism of our species and are trapped in an monetary system, that as it goes down, [it] becomes increasingly mad and dangerous.” I asked her about being put on the spot at rallies and events:
“I am a public speaker and have many encounters with those who farm animals and those who eat them. In speaking with the general public some of these encounters, are very surprising, not what one may think. One man challenged me in the audience, this was in Utah, [he] was a rancher. He challenged my eastern centric liberal views and I suggested he educate me if I was saying anything incorrect about the meat industry. We met after my talk, and true to his word, he got me into [the] largest meat packing industry in Utah and then gave me a tour of his families ranch, which was so large it went over two states. A window on a different culture, is always interesting.”
Though she knows that not everyone will change, she also has first-hand experience helping people turn over a new leaf, “my latest encounter, and these are not as untypical as one may think, was a farmer who came up to me after the talk. She agreed the process is cruel and wanted to move to non animal agriculture.”
Both in her art and conversation, Sue Coe is forthright and honest, “In the old adage, beauty is truth–I reverse it: truth is beautiful, the most beautiful thing in the world.” Armed with facts and her drawings, which seep with a raw empathy for the subject, Coe sets upon her quest, “Research is the key, direct witnessing is the most important. My job is to expose what is concealed. I share information, the science, the economics and try to represent the voice of those beings not in the room: the animal voice.”
Contributor Brad Silk is an artist, curator, hedonist, and unprofessional who has worked with New York City galleries since 2007. He is Assistant Director at Numberthirtyfive Gallery (numberthirtyfive.com) and will be working with HEREarts Center (here.org) and Art Connects NY (artconnectsny.org). As an artist and curator with both commercial and not-for-profit spaces, he has a unique view into the art world.