Monthly Archives: January 2020

From the vaults: art about addiction, from 1991.

Self Portrait with Dino Jan 26 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1990On Jan 27 2020 I celebrated 31 years clean and sober.

These paintings are from Fall 1991, when I was just turning three years sober. I had several excellent painting teachers at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the school where I finished my degree after I got sober. These paintings were part of a series I did with one of them.

The one above shows me and my friend Dino in her flat on First Avenue, the night before I left for treatment, January 27, 1989.

Self Portrait with P at the Jane West in 1987 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1990This one, of my longtime on-and-off boyfriend P. and I, is at the Jane West Hotel.

It was an SRO then, I think it’s fancy now.

Self Portrait Panhandling 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991My main income as a junky came from panhandling.

Not because I was opposed to sex work – I have always known and loved sex workers – but because my father, my first abuser, made me so self-conscious about my cellulite! I found it very hard to see my own body as a commodity.

Self Portrait Panhandling with subway entry in 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1991These paintings are pretty dark, I know.

Their surfaces are excoriated, like my skin was then. I literally scraped away the paper.

Self Portrait Panhandling with subway entry in 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1991 cuBeing a junky was bad then and it’s bad now.

Self Portrait snorting on LES in 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991I have always had a ferocious sense of self-preservation, beading up between the lashings of self-destruction.

I wasn’t a needle user til my very last night before treatment; I snorted instead, in the bathroom of every restaurant and bar that would let me on First Avenue.

I worried a lot, at the time, about what the alkaloid plus whatever it was cut with was doing to my sinuses.

Yesterday I had my first sinus ultrasound, at my first visit to a German Otolaryngologist.

He ran the lube-slick device over my cheek, and he yelped, “Jesus Christ!” And said no more, except that I must get a CT scan immediately and I may need surgery.

Luckily sinus surgery not too big a deal and we have incredible German health insurance that will cover everything! But yeah, I guess there was a reason I was sick eight times in ten months last year.

I am so lucky, so grateful to be alive, to be here in Germany, to be working.

Self Portrait panhandling 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991I feel such grief for the huge population in the States living in opiate addiction.

Harm reduction matters and #narcansaveslives. Don’t leave before the miracle happens.

None of these paintings had ever been photographed; no record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be 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.

 

For the archives – Color studies from art school!

Auto shop color study painting for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumIn 1989 I got sober, and moved to Minnesota.

I wound up finishing my degree at The Minneapolis College of Art and Design because I wanted to stay near my halfway house. In a lot of ways, MCAD was a problem for me and I was a problem for MCAD. I seemed to be the only New Yorker there, and I was unable to parse the passive-aggressive Minnesota Nice culture or the conceptual art school culture. I considered myself a craftsperson, a person being professionally trained for a commercial career as a comic artist, which was a form of commercial illustration.

Auto shop color study for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumBut the commercial illustration track at MCAD had already switched to digital for the most part.

There were terrific resources for people who wanted to enter the nascent world of digital graphic design; I was not one of those people. So my track wound up being Fine Art, because that’s where the drawing classes were. The fact that I had to take Painting classes too was a bug, not a feature, for me. I was deeply uncomfortable doing anything new or different, anything that got in the way of my progress towards a job in comics (particularly using color!), and I was also volatile, rageful and doing deep therapy work about CSA.

I got in a lot of conflict with the MCAD faculty.

Auto shop color study for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumLuckily, I had a wonderful teacher who got past my resistance and fear around color, and I really had fun with his assignments.

I took the one series of Illustration classes that were focused on traditional drawing, and they were taught by a marvelous man named Tom Garrett. He was a tremendous teacher, one of those teachers that all students love. We did illustration assignments in the stages an agency would expect, roughs to comps to finals, and Tom always managed to make it fun and interesting.

Chicken Drawing 2 for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumMost importantly, I who almost never felt safe anywhere felt safe in Tom Garrett’s class.

It was a safe space, where someone like me, who could out-draw everyone in the room, was the same as all the “Why Can’t Johnny Draw” kids, as I called them. And they were the same as me, and I could see the value of their different skills and visions and understandings of the assignments. We worked hard, but I also felt playful, something I’d never felt before in art school. You can see me explore color, style and mark-making in these assignments.

Chicken Drawing for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumThey say that one supportive adult can make all the difference to a damaged child.

I know a lot of my resilience comes from the fact that throughout my life I have had many, many supportive adults and teachers and professional adults who saw past my rage, brittleness, inappropriateness and struggle to function. All those people cared for me, steered me and mentored me.

Drawing for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumTom Garrett was one of the most important mentors and supporters in my career.

Having a space to play with composition, color and mark-making was a huge factor in my being able to do progressively more intuitive work in my Fine Art classes. I was really deeply afraid of creative failure, judgement, and exposure (of my soul, I guess?) when I got to MCAD. Three of my teachers there changed things for me: Tom Garrett, painting teacher Elizabeth Erickson, and Fine Arts Dean Hazel Belvo. Teachers who make safe spaces do an incredible thing.

Bathtub painting for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class prob 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI think you can actually see how safe and supported I felt in the classroom assignments.

Traditional, agency-style illustration assignments involved a concept, roughs on the concept that are reviewed by the client, comps that approximate the final, and a final. Hence the many iterations on what may seem like odd themes!

Kleenex paintings for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesTom was the person who suggested I become a courtroom artist, which led to me having a professional art career before I even finished school!

He was convinced I’d be good at it, and I carried that conviction to my interviews at the tv stations, drawing samples, and going to work for local CBS affiliate WCCO. I made a good living and I was really good at it, and my drawings were on CNN when I was just 25.

I was so fond of Tom I made him a coconut cream pie (his favorite!) for the last day of our last class together! It was the first time I made custard, and I was very nervous it wouldn’t work, but it did, and I brought the pie to class. Thank you always, Tom. A good teacher is beyond price.Theater Box paintings for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

These last two are the ones everyone liked best out of all the work I did in Tom’s classes!

Only two of these paintings have ever been photographed; no record of the others existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be 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.