Sue Coe’s Brute Forces

Exhibition Review

  • "Sue Coe: Graphic Resistance"

  • MoMA / PS1, Queens, NY
  • 03 Jun 2018 - 09 Jun 2018
  • Sue Coe: The Ghosts of Our Meat

  • By Stephen F. Eisenman
  • 118 pages, 119 color illustrations
  • The Trout Gallery, Dickinson College, Carlisle PA,
  • $19.95
  • The Animal's Vegan Manifesto

  • By Sue Coe
  • 120 pages, illustrated in black and white
  • OR Books, New York, 2017
  • $17.00

Once I saw the village butcher slice the neck of a bird and drain the blood out of it. I wanted to cry out, but his joyful expression caught the sound in my throat. This cry, I always feel it there . . . When I painted the beef carcass it was still this cry that I wanted to liberate. I have still not succeeded. —Chaim Soutine

1

Sue Coe, It Got Away From Them (1990), graphite, watercolor and gouache on board, 40 1/8 x 30 inches. Copyright ©Sue Coe, Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York.

From an early age, Sue Coe has had a complicated relationship with meat. Growing up near a slaughterhouse in Liverpool, close enough to hear and smell its animal tenants, she became an animal activist and staunch vegan.2 It is no wonder, then, that she would be drawn to the vibrant, visceral paintings of Chaim Soutine (1893–1943), with their expressive, even empathetic depictions of animal carcasses. Coe has often cited Soutine as an inspiration, not for his painterly style, but for the intensity of his work and his understanding of the sacrificial nature of animal slaughter.3 Soutine’s account of witnessing a butcher’s delight in killing a chicken had a profound effect on Coe. Soutine described the silencing effect it had on him as a child, resulting in a cry of outrage that he spent the rest of his life attempting to utter. That feeling of stifled rage, curiosity and confusion is the driving force behind Coe’s work. She reckons with cruelty and struggles to reconcile a gut instinct to protect all life with acts of so-called justified violence.

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  1. Stanley Meisler, Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), 91. []
  2. “All Good Art is Political: Käthe Kollwitz and Sue Coe.” Galerie St. Etienne. https://gseart.com/exhibitions-essay/1091 (accessed 1 August 2018). []
  3. Sue Coe, “Artist Lecture.” Summer Open House at MoMA PS1, New York, NY, 3 June 2018. []