LA Times: Around the Galleries
Friday, November 26, 2004

"Making some graphic statements"

Among graphic artists who engage political subjects, Sue Coe is a national treasure. For her first L.A. solo show in 13 years, the New York artist offers 23 drawings and prints from the last 20 years at Overtones Gallery, many of them on the theme of war.

Stylistically and through occasional quotation of imagery, Coe makes nods to a host of impassioned artistic predecessors who chronicled state corruption, public and private wickedness, and human folly, including Goya, Daumier, George Grosz and Max Beckmann. One result is a vivifying sense of perpetual depredation met by enduring resistance.

Like Beckmann, whose 1921 "Jahrmarkt" prints used a carnival theme to examine the human condition, Coe sets the current Bush administration in a circus atmosphere. One pencil drawing shows soldiers riding an amuse- ment park Ferris wheel that has run amok, giving it echoes of a medieval torturer's Catherine wheel. Another describes the latest razzmatazz on TV, with media baron Rupert Murdoch shown draped with a dead fox as he beats a war drum, while a row of shackled lambs lines up at his feet. These drawings are from Coe's recently published book "Bully! Master of the Global Merry-Go-Round."

In that context earlier prints assume new topicality. Among the most powerful is "We Will Not Go Back" from 1992. The blunt black lithograph, blotted with crimson gouache, shows a skeleton dressed in judicial robes, with a woman curled in the fetal position at his feet. With bloody hands he raises a coat hanger aloft. Coe's stark translation of the grim reaper's traditional scythe into a back-alley abortionist's tool carries devastating visual and conceptual power. It's like something out of Bruegel or Albert Pinkham Ryder.