Sue Coe, Depopulation, 2020. Linocut plate. 10 3/8" x 8 1/2" © 2020 Sue Coe Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
with Amy Laik
Sue Coe photo: Steve Murray
Sue Coe is an English American artist who now resides in rural New York. She attended three art universities, the last being the Royal College of Art. Here, she worked in a highly competitive environment, but this ultimately pushed her to create. During her time at school, she was getting commissions as a working artist. Coe is well-known for her social & political protest prints, many of her works expressing themes of animal rights, anti-fascism, and recording historical events. The stark contrast of the black and white in her work coupled with strong imagery allows for the viewer to provoke change.
Sue Coe, Depopulation, 2020. Linocut plate in process. 10 3/8" x 8 1/2" © 2020 Sue Coe Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
Amy Laik: I know you are from the UK, but now reside in the US, has your location ever affected your art?
Sue Coe: I have lived in US most of my adult life but, come from a European art tradition in terms of technique, political content, satire, Expressionism, with an emphasis on the printed page and having the artwork associated with journalism and research. On one level, I could be living anywhere and would be making social political work. I live in a rural area as surrounded by nature, animals and birds which does enter my work, but no escape as still humans around with guns, trying to kill everyone, so back to social political work.
Sue Coe, Depopulation, 2020. Linocut and plate . 10 3/8" x 8 1/2" © 2020 Sue Coe Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
AL: In the work First Known Case of Demon to Demon Transmission, what led you to use this specific imagery?
SC: The words, which I thought were funny. Then thinking that the White House is a crime scene. I play around with the characters scale a lot. As the scanner is so small. I am doing the last of the Trump works this week. I hope I will never have to do another.
Sue Coe, First Known Case of Demon to Demon Transmission, 2020 © Sue Coe Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
AL: You previously mentioned that your prints need to have a dialectal component when choosing an image. Your images are strong enough to be a statement on their own, but do you find that the words finalize the piece or are they the foundation?
SC: The prints are fast multiples to be quickly seen, from my days of working for newspapers. I was going to write Stephen Miller on this print [First Known Case of Demon to Demon Transmission], knowing full well that 70% of Americans don’t know who the architect for the wall is, and the child separation policy, who is busy promoting QAnon, but thought the title covered it. I also like carving out words back to front...it’s like the old medieval broadsides.
Sue Coe: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 2019 © Sue Coe Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
AL: What led you to social/political art? You have worked for newspapers; how did this impact your choice of media?
SC: I led the art to social political material to match my concerns as a human being. This fit well with daily journalism in newspaper and publications, and I felt confident working within deadlines. It’s like some musician who plays the clubs, and juke joints every night. You get to understand the limitations and how to experiment.
Sue Coe,Total Eclipse of Rationality. 2017 © Sue Coe, Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
AL: It seems to be a theme in your prints that you almost exclusively use black ink. Is there a reason behind this decision?
SC: Yes, my usual printer can’t be bothered with color registration. We work at speed so black and white is faster and aesthetically,
I prefer it.
Sue Coe, We Are Many. They Are Few, Billboard, 2020 © Sue Coe, Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York, photo: Tim Buol & Matte Projects
AL: Can you tell me more about your billboard in Brooklyn? What was your process for creating an image of that scale? How did you choose the imagery? What was the response?
SC: Well it just went up, the theme of the organizers was getting out the vote. Which I matched with the wave of protests happening all over the country. Strength in numbers or…we are the many, they are the few. As there are so few businesses that can afford to rent billboards, these were empty spaces to be taken over by artists. There is no problem with scale. A work of art can be read at a few inches or many feet. When you see something reproduced you are nearly always surprised by seeing it in reality. It’s never as small or large as you think. Since Covid started, I have been forced to work the size of my scanner, which is letter size, to get the work out as a high-resolution scan. So, this billboard is from a print which is ten inches long.
Sue Coe,Doctor MAGA. 2020. Linocut, © Sue Coe, Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York,
AL: How has being an artist impacted your life?
SC: It’s been quite a lovely adventure. To be always drawing and thinking of ideas and deadlines. To raise money using art, for people or animals who need it, or raise awareness, or just be useful to others in the struggle is such a gift.
Sue Coe, Wheel of Fortune, 2016. Linocut on cream Rives paper. Signed and dated, lower right, and inscribed A/P, lower left; red bird stamp, lower left. 9 1⁄2 ̋× 8 ̋ Copyright © Sue Coe, Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
AL: What artists have influenced you throughout your career?
SC: Mostly dead ones. Kathe Kollwitz, Rembrandt and Goya – I return to them over and over. Then the Mexican Muralists.
AL: What is most important in your art making?
SC: Well…when it’s most effective in making change as part of a community. It’s always a battle between letting go of self and letting the content speak. My eyes happen to be blue. I don’t want the viewer to look into my eyes and notice they are blue. I want the viewer to look through my eyes at the content.
Sue Coe in her home April 2020 Photo:Steve Murray
AL: Do you have any advice for young artists coming into the protest art scene?
SC: Protest art today consists mostly of icons, portraits. Which is good and necessary. Making art by the human hand is a protest of sorts already. It’s a resistance to scrolling down and the eyes of a consumer. My advice is do forensic research on any subject, that you are curious about. Visual journalism. Draw every day. If you stand on any street corner for twelve hours making a drawing every ten minutes you are recording social and political life in the way of a witness. If you come home and look at all the drawings one or two of them will have the seeds of something more.
Sue Coe, It Can Happen Here
September 15, 2020 to December 30, 2020
Sue Coe is a British-American artist and illustrator working primarily in drawing and printmaking, often in the form of illustrated books and comics. Coe studied at the Royal College of Art in London, lived in New York City from 1972 to 2001. She currently resides in upstate New York.
Amy Laik is studying Art and Gender & Women's Studies at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
Amy was an Apprentice in the Studio of Deanna Sirlin in 2017.