An extremely intelligent and immensely complicated artist, Sue Coe has been truly groundbreaking in the realm of sociopolitical art. Her signature style of “visual journalism” distributes valuable information to the public to instigate social change for the causes she supports such as ending animal cruelty, economic oppression, sexual exploitation, and political corruption. Her mediums include printmaking and painting, as well as illustration through artist’s books and comics. Her commentary on social injustices has been featured in ArtNews, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, among many others.
Sue Coe was born in 1951 in Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, into a neighborhood still suffering from the aftermath of World War II. She knew at a young age that she wanted to be an artist to express her disdain for the poor working class which surrounded her, as well as the cruelty to animals she witnessed at a local slaughterhouse. Her influences include Jose Guadalupe Posada, Käthe Kollwitz, George Grosz, Rembrandt, and Chaim Soutine. At age 16, Coe earned a scholarship to the Chelsea School of Art. From 1970–1973, Coe attended the Royal College of Art in London and studied graphic design. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York City and began drawing cartoons for local newspapers and magazines, making her art more available in the public sphere. Her earliest exhibition was in 1979 at Thumb Gallery in London. In 1991, a retrospective of her work was held at at Galerie St. Etienne in New York City.
Currently living in upstate New York, Sue Coe is still producing attention-grabbing work that deals with the most poignant issues in contemporary society. Coe is usually embraced by critics for her inability to hold back her opinions concerning her subject matter, but she has also received considerable negative reactions. In a recent interview, Coe explained, “I realized that our problem as human beings was not that we were all warlike and greedy, but rather that we were too cooperative with the bully.” In an effort to increase public understanding, Coe regularly donates her prints and drawings to charity and fundraisers that support the causes that her work illustrates.
The Last 11 Days, a series of sketches depicting the last days of her mother’s life, as well as several other prints and paintings, are part of NMWA’s collection. Unlike her other work, The Last 11 Days were created without the intention of being shown and reveal Coe’s private struggle with her mother’s illness and eventual death. Sue Coe is inspiring in every form, supporting issues that plague the world and refusing to sit quietly in their wake. She continues to be a magnetic force in the complex world of contemporary women artists.
Ali Printz is an intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.