Sue Coe

Sue Coe
September 1996
p. 132

Having grown up so close to a hog farm that the sounds and smells of slaughtering permeated her daily life, Sue Coe has investigated the meat industry for the past ten years, visiting slaughterhouses, hatcheries, farms, and factories across the United States. Her new book, entitled Dead Meat, is a collection of essays by Coe and others interspersed with her unflinching illustrations portraying the brutality that affects the slaughterhouse workers as well as the animals.

While the book's tone of sustained horror tends to drain its power, the original drawings and paintings on view here had surprisingly more impact. Coe's depictions of the killing floor, penned animals, and the processing of body parts, with captions such as "live baby chicks used as fertilizer)," persuasively convey her potent message. Utilizing various combinations of gouache, graphite, watercolor, ink, charcoal, crayon, and pastel, Coe's execution in these oversize works is stylized yet unabashedly confrontational.

The centerpiece of the exhibition, diverging from the subject of the meat industry, is a large work entitled Ship of Fools- Coe's attempt to pack a compendium of society's ills, from violence in Bosnia to hot tubs, into a single painting. An overwrought jumble of colors and images, it has the effect of trivializing tragedy and seems, in its shrillness, almost silly. Coe is most effective she eschews her soapbox and works from tenderness and compassion. Her gentle, simple sketches of doomed animals, such as the huddled "Family of Goats, 24 Hrs. from Slaughter, Lancaster Stockyards" say it all.

-Carol Diehl