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A political art 

Sue Coe just depicts what she sees

click to enlarge They Cut off Their Hands So They Couldnt Vote  is Sue - Coes response to Rwandan horrors in 2000.
  • They Cut off Their Hands So They Couldnt Vote is Sue Coes response to Rwandan horrors in 2000.

Sue Coe has drawn and painted what she's seen her entire life.

"Her art raises awareness and shines light on issues by looking at slaughterhouses, women's prisons, war ... in a way that most of society does not," says Jocelyn Nevel, public relations and marketing manager at the Smokebrush Gallery.

AIDS and The Tragedy of War are two of the New York City resident's print cycles that will be exhibited at the Smokebrush Gallery through mid-October.

When asked about the political motivations behind her work, the British artist responds with a reminder of how artists have "drawn and painted from what is real" for centuries. Rembrandt, Durer and Goya are among some of the artists who inspire her.

"Political art is the art of ambiguity," Coe says. "What I do is reportage [of] what I see, so mine is not the most political."

Using the example of animal rights, which influences much of her work, Coe explains that the issue is happening within her lifetime, so exposure to it fuels her work.

Nevel describes The Tragedy of War cycle of medium-scale prints as "haunting, sad and overwhelming."

The prints chronicle disasters of war.

"I simply needed to acknowledge the constant state of war we're in," Coe says.

One particular print in this cycle called "They Cut off Their Hands, So They Couldn't Vote" pictures a wolf-like creature amid a red sea of hands. Tis etching was created in 2000 in response to the situation in Rwanda when "the Hutu hacked off the Tutsis' hands to stop them from voting."

According to Coe, just recently the Tutsis were shown voting in an election, using their mouths and toes to hold the pens.

"This shows us they can't be stopped," she says. "Nothing needs to be invented. Everything miraculous exists."

Educated at the Royal College of Art in London, Coe initially established herself as an illustrator for the New York Times and Time magazine. Her work resides among the collections in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has been a representative of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York since 1989.

Coe's AIDS cycle was created when she visited the infectious-disease ward in the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She says everyone she illustrated died of AIDS.

These small-scale prints evoked quite a different, unique response in Nevel.

"Each print is a portrait with a story," she says. "To see them, I had to get physically close to a person who's not alive today. It's overwhelming on a more private, intimate scale."

Coe recently updated the prints after visiting women in prison who were HIV-positive. All of them, ironically, have been kept alive by the care they've received in prison.

"The content is thought-provoking, challenging and sometimes jarring," Nevel says. "This is consistent through her work, and most definitely with the work on display."


Sue Coe's Cycles: AIDS and The Tragedy of War

Smokebrush Gallery,

218 W. Colorado Ave., #102

Sept. 7 through Oct. 17; First Friday Art Walk Opening Reception Friday, Sept. 7, 5-8 p.m., music by Bob Tudor; artist lecture Thursday, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

Open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m.

Free; call 444-1012 or visit smokebrush.org for more.

  • Sue Coe just depicts what she sees

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