My first recollection of Sue Coe’s work was during the turbulent Thatcher years of the 1980s, which we appear to be reliving under the present Tory-led coalition government. I recall seeing copies of her ‘How to commit suicide in South Africa’ for sale in Compendium, the Camden Town independent, leftie bookshop beloved but now lost. Then, Sue received controversial coverage in the media for her drawings of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. I did not catch up with her work until I had moved to the USA and saw the exhibit, Porkopolis, in Washington, DC in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I wrote to her then as PETA’s Executive Director expressing admiration for her work and offering any assistance I could. Many years later, I went along to hear her speak in Baltimore when she was a guest lecturer at the local art institute. Her talk was like a breath of fresh air with all its insights, controversies and humour. Afterwards, I introduced myself and we went for coffee. Since then, we’ve become friends and colleagues.
She is the most important living artist in our time. The craft in her work is truly amazing. There is, also, a subtle cleverness in her referencing to the artists and their work that inspires her. I am proud of the fact that Sue was a regular in The Animals’ Agenda magazine I used to publish.
In the film, Sue describes herself as a worm turning over the soil reporting on the world she sees. I like to think of her more as someone who holds up a mirror to society challenging us to consider our stupid ways. But, in doing so, it is done with such an uncompromising vision that is remarkable if disturbingly beautiful.
We’re all the better for seeing the world through Sue Coe’s eyes.