“Sheep of Fools” is quite woolly

Kyle Macmillian, The Denver Post, August 30, 2006

Sue Coe is a provocateur. Her impeccably realized paintings and drawings prick and prod, offering troubling, sometimes even painful glimpses at such wide-ranging issues as war, rape, racism, hunger and animal abuse.

The British-born artist, who began as an illustrator for such publications as The New York Times and Time, rose to prominence during the 1980s in the topsy-turvy, no-holds-barred art scene of New York City’s East Village.

Though she has lost little of her political fervor, Coe has become something of a doyenne of the contemporary art scene, with New York representation by the solidly blue-chip Galerie St. Etienne, which also exhibits German Expressionism and Grandma Moses.

 

Thirty-two drawings, the oldest dating to 1990 but most created since 2000, are on display through Sept. 9 at the Emmanuel Gallery in “Sue Coe: Selections from ‘Sheep of Fools.”‘

 

The exhibition, another impressive offering from the Auraria campus gallery’s ambitious new director, Shannon Corrigan, provides a solid, worthwhile overview of a significant artist, but it is not for the faint-hearted.

 

Drawings such as “Debeaking” (2003), a portrait of a bloodied, forlorn bird missing part of its beak, or the descriptively titled “Mulesing: Cutting Off the Vaginal Folds with No Anesthetic” (2004), can be tough to stomach.

Though the show’s selections have been taken from several of Coe’s pictorial cycles, its title derives from one of her most recent and fascinating sets of images, “Sheep of Fools,” a twist on Sebastian Brant’s 15th-century compendium of human vices, “Ship of Fools.”

The series is an extension of an earlier body of work, titled “Ghost Sheep,”which in turn was inspired by a small news clipping about the 1986 sinking of a cargo ship with 67,050 sheep on board. The one human casualty was duly noted but little was made of the animal deaths.

Coe imagines this almost other-worldly scene in the crowning achievement of this exhibition, “Goats Before Sheep” (2002), a 40-by-30 1/4-inch graphite drawing depicting sheep being blown from the exploding ship as the crew huddles in lifeboats bobbing in the turbulent sea.

 

The exhibition, another impressive offering from the Auraria campus gallery’s ambitious new director, Shannon Corrigan, provides a solid, worthwhile overview of a significant artist, but it is not for the faint-hearted.

 

Drawings such as “Debeaking” (2003), a portrait of a bloodied, forlorn bird missing part of its beak, or the descriptively titled “Mulesing: Cutting Off the Vaginal Folds with No Anesthetic” (2004), can be tough to stomach.

Though the show’s selections have been taken from several of Coe’s pictorial cycles, its title derives from one of her most recent and fascinating sets of images, “Sheep of Fools,” a twist on Sebastian Brant’s 15th-century compendium of human vices, “Ship of Fools.”

The series is an extension of an earlier body of work, titled “Ghost Sheep,”which in turn was inspired by a small news clipping about the 1986 sinking of a cargo ship with 67,050 sheep on board. The one human casualty was duly noted but little was made of the animal deaths.

 

Coe imagines this almost other-worldly scene in the crowning achievement of this exhibition, “Goats Before Sheep” (2002), a 40-by-30 1/4-inch graphite drawing depicting sheep being blown from the exploding ship as the crew huddles in lifeboats bobbing in the turbulent sea.

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