Monthly Archives: June 2015

My first Berlin art event!

Suzanne Forbes drawing from ESDIP June 2015Since we got here, it has been crazy.

There is so much to do with a move like this for two people and two cats. Plus we’re both partially disabled and just don’t have the bandwidth some people do.

So it was only this Friday, three months after we arrived, the day after we got our two-year visa, that I finally made it to an artist’s networking event.


It was at ESDIP Berlin, a co-working space and art school in Friedrichshain.

I took the subway, even though the tram would have been more efficient, because I love the subway so much. Across from me there were three blond German kids; I noticed them because one girl had a face that interested me as a potential model. I don’t have cards yet though, and although I have been known to accost total strangers and demand they pose for me, I prefer to have a card to give them.

I got off at Frankfurter Tor, which smells slightly like pee, as do many Friedrichshain stations.

I deeply appreciated that the event didn’t start til 8, and when I got there at 8:30 everyone was eating delicious vegan food from Flambé. After staggering asthmatically up the eight million stairs, I entered the room full of young artists in full-on perimenopause hotflash hell.

Luckily, there was a gallery space serving as smoking room with open windows, and I saw a woman my own age, standing in one of them. I asked if I could share her window, since I was having a change of life moment.

She said in the most glorious, smoky, Marlene Dietrich voice, “Dahling, you know I understand you!”

I had a lovely chat with her, and then found a seat next to Clairikine, a transcultural maker of comics who I was delighted to meet. There is an incredible generation of young women in comics now, fearless and funny. They were never wounded by the battle to break in at the Big Two as I was, because they’ve never cared about working at Marvel or DC. They make comics and post them, and scrape together a living, and they don’t have to get sexually harassed by editors to do it.

Soon the first presenter, a graphic designer from Spain, started his slides.

That’s him in the top picture, Jorge Chamorro. I was so happy to be in a room full of artists, with beautiful work on the walls, with people holding sketchbooks, with people talking about making visual art. There were people from all over Europe, and of course plenty of Americans because there are Americans everywhere in Berlin, and everyone there cared about DRAWING. (And eating tasty vegan food. And drinking beer, or delicious Fritz-Kola, like me.)

It was like taking a bath in hope and welcome, especially because of the usual ghastly Berlin humidity.

The presenters were from Spain, France, Scotland and Germany. I was enchanted by French animator Perrine Marais and her fucking adorable mobile game, Pony Style Box. I was also impressed to see that “Kommunikations Designer” Jonas Heidenreich has solid actual drawing skills under his graphic design chops. I don’t think they teach drawing to design students in the US anymore.

I felt like I was in an environment where traditional draughtsmanship was actually valued, for the first time in decades.

I drew this picture below after the talks were over, especially for one of my patrons, since she has a taste for a certain look in boys. ESDIP_Connects_2_Suzanne_Forbes_June_15

I headed home early, just past midnight, because I’m an old, but I was deeply glad to have gone and so excited about art in Berlin.

I stopped at a very cool little crepe shop and bought two goddam excellent macarons, for just €3, and on the subway I saw the three blond kids again, sitting across from me again. “You guys were–” I said, laughing, and they said, “Yes! Berlin is small.”

Berlin is small, but big enough for new dreams.





Berlin is louche as fuck.

Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes June 2015Berlin is an amazing combination of good-citizen law-abidingness and cavalier scofflawry.

Obeying the law seems to be, iike many things in Germany, left to your good sense. You may have read that German people will shout at you if you cross the street on a red light; one phrase that they shout translates to “Think of the children (you monster)!”. It’s not actually so much about obeying the red light as setting a careful example to kids.

Besides, nobody in Berlin is in such a hurry that they really need to jaywalk.

The European sense that the law should be obeyed when appropriate and disregarded otherwise is particularly noticeable on the public transit system. Technically, it is illegal to eat, drink, drink alcohol or smoke on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses. Absolutely everyone ignores this.

Since you can get an espresso, a noodle stir-fry and a six-pack on the subway platform, it’s not difficult.Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes June 2015

(You can also get a pack of cigarettes, from an actual cigarette machine, but I haven’t seen anyone smoking on the transit system yet. )

You’ll be on the bus and someone will be eating a pastry; the person across from them will notice and remember that they have a sandwich in their bag. Pretty soon everyone is crunching away.

Here you see a picture of a girl cheerfully eating french fries- which you will note are SPECIFICALLY forbidden- while the ticket inspector gives her friend a ticket for riding without one, which everyone does all the time, of course. You can see my hand drawing the U-Bahn signs, which are hidden by the ticket inspector’s head.

I was waiting for her to offer him some fries, but she rudely did not.

I love all this lawlessness, of course. One of my patrons requested that I make some work about the similarity between Berlin now and New York in the 80s, so I drew this picture of me and my best friend Skenney and our friend Naomi on the subway in 1982 or ’83. We used frisbees as drink trays during our “Mobile Tequila Sunrise” phase; you can see Naomi is daintily adding the grenadine.NYC Subway early 80s Suzanne Forbes


Fauvist Mantis and Crafting With Pornstars

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015


These embroidered insects are the thing I’ve been working on the most for the last two months, since we got to Berlin. Embroidery is a wonderfully portable art form because it’s very cheap, has a tiny footprint and doesn’t risk mess-making like painting does.

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015

I loved embroidery as a teenager, but it took a craft day at a yoga spa with porn stars to get me doing it again in my forties.

During my years as a sex-positive artist in the Bay Area, I did a lot of work with Madison Young. I’m so very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in shows and performance art at her gallery, benefits she produced for sex-positive institutions, and shows her gallery arranged for me. (you can see some of the work here– NOT work-safe, and you’ll need to be signed in to Flickr with the adult safeties off to see some of it.)

Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes 2010One of the things we did was a day of handwork in the backyard of a fancy yoga place. As I recall the work produced was to benefit Lyon-Martin, and was exhibited there. Kira Scarlet, the lovely lady shown here, brought embroidery supplies and re-taught me how to do it.

When I went into remission from depression, I started to play around with needlework. You can see my last couple years of embroidery work here.

Thanks to PInterest, my embroidery has been inspired by Game of Thrones.

Original embroidery art by Michele Carragher for HBO's Game of Thrones

Original embroidery art by Michele Carragher for HBO’s Game of Thrones

No, that doesn’t mean *spoiler* has *spoilered* my *spoilers*.

Instead, I discovered master textile artist Michele Carragher, who does all the embroidery for the costumes on the show. She is very generous in sharing her process and techniques, and there are lots of pictures of her work on her site.

Her work with sheer fabrics and metallic lace is amazing. I was inspired to start using organza, lace and tulle as well as beading and ribbon in my needlework.Mermaid_Suzanne_Forbes_2015

This mermaid is the first embroidery I did with mixed media. It was the last thing I worked on in the Bay besides the three portraits I finished in March, and I was working on it til our last week- I think it actually got packed the day we left.

All the materials were leftover from my insane mermaid costume project.  The ribbons and net were burned and torn to distress them. Eventually she’ll have clamshell sequin pasties but I couldn’t find them in the chaos of final packing.

One of the ideas I’m interested in is using tulle or net as a callback to Zip-A-Tone, a 20th Century artist’s material now completely obliterated by Photoshop.

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015Also, bead embroidery is my equivalent of smoking pot- it is relaxing and meditative and luscious to me. Here in Berlin, I didn’t have my stash of beads and fabric, but you can buy oval hoops in the craft store! Oval hoops are the business.  My art materials stash has been growing thanks to a friend who is both generous patron and muse, and I bought some German metallic thread.

“This is way better than regular metallic thread”, I said to my artist sister-in-law over Skype. She said, “You mean it’s only the seventh circle of Hell instead of the ninth?” Exactly!

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015You can see the layers of metallic lace and organza ribbon in this bug- and also its surprising Fauvist palette.

People who have only seen my paintings from 2005 on might be surprised to know that my earliest paintings were all in the colors of Gauguin and Matisse, not Manet. The mantis was inspired by the poetic bug photographs of Igor Siwanowicz.

Also, I have been obsessed with mantises for a long time. Creepy.

This week: An angry little girl!

As promised, for the lovely little ones back in Cali, my version of kid-friendly art.

The apartment I grew up in was filled with the artwork of my parents’ friends, and it was incredibly important to me. The pictures were like portals into the mysterious capacities of adulthood and the mystery of my parents’ past.

(Patrons receive a high-resolution file to print and frame, perfect for the goth-industrial nursery.)

I’ve always loved doing silhouettes of children, and the idea for this one popped into my head last week when I saw our furious kitty parading her outrage at us around the house.

I have very clear memories of being an angry little girl, stomping out to the yard at our ramshackle country house in Maine.

My generation of kids, the latchkey generation, was the last one to have the freedom to go fuck around outside unsupervised. We could walk away from our parents, and nobody would come after us. Later we loved Calvin and Hobbes so much because it was a document of a vanished kids’ world, one of wayward, lackadaisical freedom where tins cans, rusty nails and broken glass were just part of the environment.

Sharp things and junk were toys to me, interesting items, as much as sea slugs and birch bark.

Pull tabs and browned barb wire were components of my miniature worlds, like Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. I loved the flowers of high summer, the Black-Eyed Susans and Indian Paintbrush in the drawing, and the fishhooks and lures in my father’s tackle box. I loved to make stuff, and to be left alone.

At the same time, I was fascinated with performative femininity and the armature of created identity from babyhood.

There’s a family story about how when I was three, my godmother Sandy (who will appear in a future post!) asked me why I never wore pants. “Sandra, I’m not into pants”, I told her archly. I was a frankly beautiful child, both inappropriately sexualized and innately self-absorbed, and there are pictures of me in pretty dresses where I am absolutely vamping. I got that “pretty” was a key to power. I was looking for tools, and power, and I always cobbled them together from my environment.

That’s why when I saw Mark Tansey’s painting “The Bricoleur’s Daughter” in 1990 it hit me like a Mack truck.

This huge work addresses Derrida’s notion of bricolage, Plato’s Cave, and a half a dozen other heavyweight philosophical and art-historical constructs while presenting as a visually pleasing and apparently traditional painting. It’s stealth discourse! Sometimes the simplest, most literal things tell the complicated stories best.

There’s nothing I like better than using the formatted iconography of traditional illustration to frame a new discussion.

The Bricoleur's Daughter by Mark Tansey



You can see the legacy of pulp immediately, as well as something else. Although it’s not part of the critical dialogue about the work, I’m pretty confident that art-history maniac Tansey intended the disturbing objectification of the young girl.

I see her Balthus-like pose as placing that objectification within the discourse about the complicity of the viewer’s gaze, which moves through Caravaggio to Emma Sulkowicz.

There’s a reason it’s the Bricoleur’s Daughter, not his son. I love that she’s casting the Plato’s cave shadow herself- knowing is half the battle!


 So to me, my silhouette drawing is a stealth message about the righteous rage of little girls.

nancy-drew-book-coverThey will be, despite your best intentions and hard work, inculcated into a culture of performative self-objectification.

It sucks, but they have you (even when they’re mad at you), they have allies, they have tools to parse unique identities, they have their marvelous resourcefulness, and they have their beautiful, sacred fury.

lagniappe: Interested in political silhouette art? Kara Walker is everything. Interested in abandoned lot art? Lonnie Holley is amazing.

My first art in Berlin, thanks to Patreon!

Original drawing Suzanne Forbes May 2015We’ve been in Berlin over two months, but I’d been afraid to take any time to make art. Looking for any kind of job to help us get settled seemed like the highest priority.

Then some loved ones suggested I start a Patreon to support my art. And so I did!

This is my first Berlin drawing. I got on the U-Bahn, took out my sketchbook, and looked up. There he was! I felt like this wonderful-looking fellow, with his recurving forms and enormous angular hands, was a gift from the drawing gods.


Families are very close and tender here; there’s a lot of physical affection, like between this mama or auntie and her girls.

Original drawing Suzanne Forbes June 2015

I’ve seen several of these bags around; I can’t help but wonder what would happen if you carried one in the US.Original drawing Suzanne Forbes June 2015

I’m so grateful to my amazing patrons, who have made this batch of drawings possible!

If you’d like to help support my work, please visit my Patreon.
You can contribute any amount- $5 a month is great!- and stop at any time.