Sue Coe: questions and answers

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Sue Coe: questions and answers

Brittany Mucy interview, 2007

other on-line interviews/videos:
Casting a Critical Eye,  Hilarie M. Sheets, The New York Times,
in print Sunday October 25, 2020
Amy Laik, The Art Section, Dialogues 2020
Barzallo, Susan, The Animals Voice, July 29, 2020
O'Neill-Butler, "Interviews: SUE COE", Artforum, August 21, 2018
Margaret Carrigan interview: A Century Later, Artist Sue Coe Takes Up
Käthe Kollwitz's Social Justice Crusade
, New York Observer, October 2017
Michael John Addario interview: Rendering Cruelty in Art and Politics July, 2017
John Mcintyre interview: What I'm Reading, February 11, 2017
Yale Daily News print interview re: Looking Through My Eyes September 16, 2016
video/interview I, You, We exhibit, Whitney Museum of American Art 2013
REAL radio interview June 20, 2012 || Reportager on Topsy Gary Embury April 2012
Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series video - March 22, 2012
SUE COE: ART OF THE ANIMAL Our Hen House video December 20, 2011
Elena Kuzmina's Animal Compassion blog || ANTENNAE see issue 19 Winter 2011
Elin Slavik interview, originally in 2005 MediaReader Quarterly May 13, 2008
LA Times, Susan Vaughn April 1, 2001
Brittany Mucy was a senior, working on a BFA in Illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design when she posed these questions to Sue in 2007.

Hey Sue. Here are some of the questions that I wanted to ask you.
Right now I'm struggling trying to figure out whether or not I really want to pursue a career in illustration or just focus on being a fine artist. Obviously I can do both, but I don't know if I really want to push to have my work published. What really pushed you to go forth with your illustration career? Was your goal even to be a well established illustrator?

Having to earn a living pushed me toward illustration, not wanting to work as waitress, and you should focus on having a high level of skill in drawing. If you have that basic, then you have much more leeway in choices.

When someone asked you your senior year of college what you were going to do with your life, what did you say? How did that differ, or did it differ, from what you did and are doing right now?

No one asked me, but if they had, I would have answered: to have a life of adventure, and challenge and become as skilled as I can as an artist - and make art in turn, that challenges people. At college I was considered a troublemaker, unteachable, and always bordering on getting thrown out (there was some justification in this opinion).

Do you feel like college really prepared you for the art/illustration world? What was your thought process about how you were going to complete the goals you set for yourself?

Yes and NO, all the teachers were working professionals. I despised them with the loathing that cannot be put into words. . . for being total mediocre right-wing sell outs, and of course I saw myself as the sole genius. . . the illustration in those days was happy children's books, and happy decoration, but later on, I realized they were doing their level best trying to teach us brats. It was a place of many disagreements and verbal sparring, but that is how you forge your own path.

A strong emphasis was put on technical skill, which was very good. My thought process was: to get work, I had to offer something stronger and different from the norm. In those days too. . .to teach female students was considered a waste of time, 'as they would just get married' and there was only One Woman in the History of Art book we were given. All the teachers were males, and of course they were married -- but that irony was lost on them.

You are asking me questions based on your freedom of choices now (which I am Very Happy for) but in the 1960s/70's in Europe the chance of any female earning their own living in either commercial art, or a gallery, were near zero, but obviously things were changing. University/art school, used to be for upper middle class kids, a finishing school until they entered the family business.

As a young adult, did you have someone that really pushed you to do what you wanted with your life?

No, I decided, no one else.

With my own artwork [left, Brittany Mucy, Envy, 2007. graphite on paper] the pictures I create are dark and have been called 'creepy'. There are a lot of unhappy things that are going on and I make it a point to focus on them and the way I feel about them. I had one professor say to me, 'Never let anyone tell you that your pictures are too dark and never let anyone change the way you create them.' Recently I had a professor tell me that I can't just draw anything I want as a young illustrator. She said that people such as yourself and others could draw whatever they wanted because they're well established. I know she has a point, but when she first said this to me I was pretty angry. Did you ever have anyone try to get you to change your images and discourage you from creating such strong pictures? If so, what did you do? What was your mind set about continuing with the images you wanted to create?

Both teachers are correct, and actually both views lead to becoming a strong artist. The more you are yourself, the more confident and unique is your vision, but the more you deal with the reality of getting work published, the more you learn roads and different paths, to say what you want, and cunning ways to circumvent barriers, the stronger artist you will become. Artists living alone in garrets on trust funds, rarely create great art, artists that draw by the numbers for acceptance and money, are never great artists, but artists that live in that difficult push and pull of the economic reality, the culture of the moment, and can balance earning a living, meeting the brief, and creating work that they know tips into something quite special, are usually very powerful artists.

It is engaging in the world that makes good art. A qualified art director wants YOUR vision, as you present it in your portfolio -- but they also want you to meet the requirements of the publication and article. Yes of course editors and art directors have wanted me to change my work, and sometimes their comments are valid, and sometimes they are redundant. It's up to the artist to listen and try and take from these comments what is valid and discard the rest.

I've heard a lot of illustrators talk about that 'AHA!' moment for them, where they had that one piece they created that changed the way they continued to create their art. Do you remember what that 'AHA!' piece was for you?

Yes, I do, it was a very large painting of a rape. I did it, stood back, looked at it and announced (to no one, as no one was listening) it would be in the Museum of Modern Art, and that is where it ended up. I knew it. Have been lucky enough to have a few of those moments, that in between every 1000 paintings or drawings, there comes one that starts a new chapter, it's like a quantum leap to the next stage.

What piece of artwork that you've done means the most to you and why?

This is a good question. You ask very good questions. . . There are a few pieces, but usually the aha! doesn't click. One is of me drawing behind a flock of goats and sheep that are being dragged into the slaughterhouse -- I was so in the moment of being with the animals, that I lost myself as a human being, but still kept on drawing mechanically, and that is a drawing that will never be for sale. It is a reminder to me, of why I am doing this work.

What is the reason for not using color in a lot of your pieces?

Have just started to use color -- am oil painting and have hidden the pencils and paper. Much of that b/w came about because of my history of working for newspapers, and in those old days, they did not have color, and I learned a strong graphic style that would print well that was tone - most artists worked in line then. The reproduction was 60dpi!

I also loved the strong content of graphic works; they seemed to me to be dealing more with political content, because they were daily responses to social conditions, Posada and Cruikshank, etc. Then when I got into galleries the size changed -- for magazines, it's usually one third up, but for a gallery or a museum, its a different space and view -- so I got larger, but was never satisfied. The large drawings always looked flat, and what was graphic and strong on a page, just got diluted larger. I can talk about this for hours, but will not bore you -- there is always something to be said for the integrity of the materials, and drawings by their nature are intimate. But I continued on with large drawings, never being satisfied with my painting skills -- and now in 2008, am just going to keep trying to paint.

Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes what would we see if we browsed through it?

Like all artists, I have a fantasy of wanting one book, and its all the same sized pages, and then another book of the same size, and they are all lined up on a shelf, by year and subject. . .it's the cataloging gene, but actually have 6/7 sketchbooks all on the go, with no rhyme or reason to any of them, and when I want to make one of them, THE Sketchbook, it never works. The first 6 pages are really great drawings, like someone else down the road of history is looking and judging and saying 'even in her sketchbooks she was great' (this is my fantasy) . . . and then they just devolve into bad drawings. You would see in the sketchbooks a record of nature, and holiday trips, and ideas for paintings, and grocery notes, and telephone messages, the whole shebang.

Looking back on your life and career, on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest) how would you rate it and why?

Hah! That is a funny question . . . I reject the concept of 'career' as it sounds contrived and planned and outside of oneself in a way. If you asked professional illustrators if I had a valid career, I doubt if they would say yes. Or art dealers if I have a valid gallery career, doubt if they would say yes. Have always had the idea, that life and work would merge into the same vision. Gandhi said to become the change you want to see, and I have tried to do that. I live in a solar-powered cabin in the woods, am vegan, but those things mean nothing if one feels one knows all the answers, and tries to control and manipulate others -- and is not listening any more, so this is all fine tuning and balance, which is never actually achieved.

Life is being aware. Integrity is not something one has, and then can take it to the bank . . . it is a state that has to be worked at every day, in every decision, small and large. Art is that fleeting firefly in the sky, flitting in and out of sight, and one chases and pursues that light, but always keeping in mind that humility and losing are part of the game too.

My dogs are the final judge -- on a scale of 1-10, as I force them into being vegetarian when all they dream about is sinking their fangs into the decaying flesh of dead things . . .BUT they can sleep on the bed, and don't get baths . . . so they give me a 6.

When people refer to you years from now, what do you want them to say?

People refer to me now!!! . . . and it's scary, am not dead yet!!! My gallery has mentioned 'the secondary market' which means what the work is worth, after death. . .eeeks! I hope by that time, that animal rights, and social justice issues will be more accepted, and people will look back on my work and say 'those were the dark ages, when humans used to slaughter animals for food!!!'

What's the most important thing you've learned throughout your life, being as an artist or just generally in life?

When you are driving along the highway, and see a snapping turtle that has been crushed by car, and you drive on by, telling yourself that 'it's too much bother, what can you do anyway? What's the point? Turtle has probably been hit again,' etc., etc. Turn around and drive back -- always carry gloves, and have duct tape ready at all times. Pick up angry turtle with great caution (or dog/cat/human, whatever the annoying creature in your face is) and try and do your best. You may not be able to do much at all, but you may be amazed at just what you can do if you try, and what you can learn when you fail.

Last one . . . The frequently asked question, do you have any words of wisdom for young artists such as myself?

Well this gets me back to your first question . . . which was not the most important question, even though it seems that way, because you are at college and swamped with these choices.

The most important question is: The content of your work -- what can you show in art that is not shown? What is important to say at this time? What is your mission? What are you passionate about? Focus on being really good at drawing, the basis of everything, whether it be computer animation, or painting, if you can't draw, you can't think. No intelligent artist, no intelligent art. . . and I know you are intelligent, I can see it in your questions. What is going to be your unique vision that drives the work? If you can figure that out, then whether you apply yourself to illustration or fine art, or books or prints, it is irrelevant. There are no genius artists out there in hiding -- if you are good at what you do, it surfaces one way or another.