Archiving: my very earliest portraits of women friends.

Portrait of Anita in black on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumHere’s three portraits of women friends I made during the winter semester of 1990, my first semester back at art school after I got sober.

I was nearly a year sober when the semester started, and living with Anita, who appears above, in all her grace and strength. I had taken an adult ed painting class in St. Paul, the previous Fall. The class was offered through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where I wound up enrolling in the BFA program in January 1990.

Portrait of Anita detail acrylic on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumPortrait of Anita in pink on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum detailIt was really an accident I took the painting class, the accident being that it was the one art class available in St. Paul that Autumn of 1989 that fit my work schedule. I was working full time in a bakery so I took a night class. I had never been interested in being a painter, professionally.

All I cared about was being a comics penciller, and I always intended to have a colorist to handle color for me.

I was bored and resentful in my color theory classes at Parsons and particularly unhappy in the one watercolor class I had to take. I did take a portrait painting class in my last semester at Parsons, but we only worked in sepia tones, not full color, and we spent the entire semester painting a single male model’s face. It was the atelier approach; it was not for me.

And the class terrified me; I would get so wasted to go that I would wind up too high to walk, let alone stand at an easel, and spend the day nodding in a lounge across the street at The New School instead.

But in Fall 1989, having a supportive woman teacher and being sober changed everything, and I began a visceral love affair with painting.Portrait of Anita sm detail acrylic on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum

I signed up for my teacher’s regular undergrad painting class in my first semester at MCAD, and she seriously had my back. The fact that I trusted her mattered so much. Although figurative art was generally spurned at MCAD, the painting teachers were really good. Somehow I got into painting on masonite during my first year painting. It was easily and cheaply bought at the school store. Masonite is a gorgeous surface to paint on, with a perfect mid-tone. (Unfortunately, it’s also insanely heavy and the sheets of masonite are a total hassle to haul around and nearly impossible to hang.)

The painting of Anita in black uses the natural color of the masonite as a base; the one below of her in pink uses a bright pink ground.

Portrait of Anita in pink on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumThese paintings have heavily scumbled surfaces, as I was using tube acrylics on disposable wax paper palettes, and the paint dried fast.

The scumbling is cool, in retrospect. But when I discovered the Masterson Sta-Wet Handy-Palette a year later, it transformed my painting, by keeping my paint moist.

Anita posed for me whenever I asked, during the short few months we lived together. I painted the picture of her in black in our scantily furnished living room, over a couple of hours on a winter night. Our friend Tom was staying with us, and he looked at it and said “Wow! I didn’t know you could paint like that!” I looked at it, and I was astonished; I said, “Neither did I.”

Portrait on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumAfter Anita was gone, I started to ask other people to pose for me.

This is a woman I knew in that first year of sobriety. We weren’t close friends, but I loved her style. She was what they called in the Twin Cities a “darksider”, a kind of goth. I was always much more interested in painting women than men, because women’s faces are so much harder and their clothes tell so much more.

Portrait on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum detailWe never had a second sitting for this picture, so it remains unfinished. But it looks kinda good that way! It’s a fucking banger of a painting.

It is such a tribute to my belief in the value of my work that I have dragged these paintings all over the US and now to Europe, through my fifteen different official residences and the three times everything I owned has been in storage, through two divorces, a bankruptcy, twenty years of crippling depression and fifteen of ill health. I believe that my work matters, and that these images of these women matter. And yet until I took the pictures for this post, there were no modern media records of them. If we had a fire, they would just have been gone forever.

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

2 thoughts on “Archiving: my very earliest portraits of women friends.

  1. Pat Ketchum

    It is wonderful to these 3 paintings and to read about your days in St. Paul. They are very striking.

    Reply

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