The George Adams Gallery is pleased to present Political Television, an exhibition of drawings and prints by Sue Coe spanning her career from the early 1980s to the present. The exhibition will feature several monumentally scaled drawings, touching on themes such as police brutality and the capitalism inherent in our political system. Alongside these will be shown an ongoing series of linocuts that exhaustively chronicles the Trump presidency and its aftermath, a period Coe refers to as “The Age of Authoritarianism.” The most recent print in the series, Forced Birth, has been made especially for the exhibition as a benefit print with the proceeds going to support Planned Parenthood. This exhibition has been organized with the cooperation of Galerie St. Etienne.
Since Coe moved to New York from London in the early ‘70s, her work – both commercial and otherwise – has been vehemently political, tying together what she understands to be the fundamental crimes of our modern society: cruelty, fascism and greed. Deriving from her training as an illustrator, Coe’s graphic and emotive style lends itself to a deeply expressive body of work, encompassing a number of serial projects and stand-alone pieces. Many of these projects have culminated in books or pamphlets, her drawings adding urgency to the issues at hand. Regardless of her medium however, Coe is brutally honest, her aim: to provide an unflinching picture of instances of the disregard for life. While her early drawings are direct in that they are commenting on recent events, they are also timeless in their reminder of how easily society can infringe on basic rights under the guise of justice and order. More recently, Coe’s “Age of Authoritarianism” prints marry the traditions of political art and cartoon, her graphic renderings of current, hot button issues, serve as both a chronicle of the recent past and a commentary on the potential consequences of world events. They have been a regular feature of The Nation’s Opp-Art column since 2019 and most recently, serve as the basis for a pair of pamphlets, American Fascism Now (2020) and American Fascism Still (2022). While the series was instigated by the candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016, his election and the controversies that ensued galvanized Coe’s response. Now numbering over seventy images, the series addresses the range of issues that have continued to shape the political discourse. From women’s rights to governmental oversight, dis-information to climate change, immigration, the Supreme Court, the pandemic, voting rights, the economy, war, and above all, Trump himself, Coe brings these issues together, creating a terrifying picture of the world we live in.
Activism has always been the driving force behind Coe’s work. In the early ‘80s, she embarked on a number of large-scale drawings, directly illustrating scenes of violence and avarice she directly observed or heard of, in a stark palette of blacks and reds. While Coe was actively doing commercial work for major publications such as Rolling Stone and the New York Times, she also became involved in the underground comic scene, contributing pieces for politically-minded magazines such as Raw and later World War 3. Her relationship with Raw led her to collaborate with the publishers Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman on two projects: How to Commit Suicide in South Africa (1983) and X (1986). Both books combined Coe’s artworks with writing on incendiary subjects: apartheid and violence in South Africa and the life of Malcolm X, respectively. Though the drawings Coe made for each were intended for print, she approached the subjects at scale – many are over five feet in size. These monumental works reflect Coe’s perception of the subjects and her sense of their importance at the time, a call for action against those who have wronged others. In 1986, drawings from both series as well as others were exhibited in a major traveling exhibition, Police State, that originated at the Virginia Commonwealth University. Works from that exhibition are also on view here, reinforcing the broader themes of violence, oppression and injustice that have remained the focus of Coe’s work for the past forty years.
Like all good activist artists, Coe manages to elicit both sympathy and repulsion from her audience while also forcing us to consider how complicit we are ourselves. While many of Coe’s prints, for instance, are granularly topical (see: They Were Just Following Orders and Inciter in Chief), she has focused more on systemic concerns, such as the inefficiencies in our political system, inhumane practices in the food industry and the dire threat caused by global warming. Politics in particular have become an increasingly urgent subject since 2016, not in small part due to the partisanship that has divided the country. Yet Coe looks at these divisions as less a product of political ideologies than as a symptom of the constructs that continue to exercise power on the democratic system. While it can be dangerously simple to dismiss her message as naïve, Coe suggests that with compassion to all living things, we can begin to heal.