I had had to cancel on these terrific performers TWICE before for health reasons, and I was so ready to document their Dark Cabaret beauty!! I mean, look at DunjavonK in latex and a black organza spiderweb bustle as a Black Widow – it doesn’t get any more insectalicious!
It was the first test under field conditions of my new live-drawing technique combining watercolor brush pen with my usual pencil, markers, Faber Castell PITT artist’s pen and Tombow Dual brush pen. I sketched with the black watercolor brush pen quite a bit and I really liked it.
I like the way the watercolor pen moves and feels!
I feel very free and easy using it. It’s especially great for hair and ellipses, as in the drawing of Dunja hooping below!
I have drawn master hooper Dunja several times before.
You can see drawings of her from last year here and here.
And of course there was the delightful MC, the one and only Scotty the Blue Bunny!
I have finally got a method of using color in my drawings that actually captures just how much Blue Bunny he is! Without Scotty the BlueBunny Berlin’s burlesque scene would actually literally just fall apart and collapse! See his art, read his origin story in Playful Magazine!
I have another drawing in process, of two stylish hoopers who were in the audience, but as it has a good bit of background it will take a little longer to finish and I’ll get it up next month prolly.
I really, really loved the venue, CrackBellmer, even though it is in Friedrichshain and even worse, in the legendary arts compound RAW, which is like Burning Man with (somewhat) more infrastructure and drug dealers, plus muddy cobbles. But Crack Bellmer is charming and cozy and reminds me of so many much-loved San Francisco and Oakland spaces of the Oughts. I would honestly go back there any time, even though it means hauling all the way across town.
Thanks so much to the Velvet Creepers for having me as a guest and making sure I had a comfortable space, drink tix and good light!
GodXXX Noirphiles is a performer I have been wanting to draw for AGES!
Because they do very interesting performance work, and amazing makeup, and because this boi is so good-looking! So when I saw he was performing at House of Presents on a damp January night, I headed over to Monster Ronsons. Her look was dazzling!
And her performance was a twist: the audience was primed for serious political performance art by the dramatic intro music, then swept into nervous giggles by the embarrassment of a familiar intimate moment.
By the end everyone was whooping with relief at sharing this awkward feeling they knew all too well!
And Gieza had an excellent new look involving three heads. This event was the first time I saw Giezaup close in person barefaced – and I almost didn’t recognize her! Gieza was kind enough to arrange disability accommodation for me, reserving a seat with a view. I used to be able to stand up and draw in a crowded club for six hours straight, but those days are long gone!
There was not actually a huge rainbow flag behind Gieza during Auntie’s performance- I just felt inspired to add a lot of color, so I did, which totally violates my normal documentary art protocols but you know what, so what!
Before the show started I drew two local beauties chatting at the DJ booth.
In the ambulance with Mom mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
Not much fun, this period of my work!
I can remember at the time, 1991, feeling like, alright, I’ve been sober a couple years, I’ve got a little bit of art school left, if I am gonna make work about being a junkie on the Lower East Side, now is the time.
Hold my place mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
It definitely felt like I was gonna handle the psychic material and then be done featuring it in my art.
And that has proven true. I haven’t felt any need to revisit that period of my life in my visual art and indeed I don’t talk about it much in my recovery community this last couple decades either. I’ve made enough wack mistakes in 31 years of sobriety to have plenty of other material to talk about!
Dino with me mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
Most of these drawings, which I made in Fall 1991, were photocopied, colored, painted and collaged together in a large piece about addiction and recovery.
It had text from legal documents, old photos of me, and Miguel Piñero poetry. It was a really nice use of my comics background, combining words and pictures. A wash of sickly translucent green varnish unified the surface, except for three bright watercolors.
Me and Dwinkie mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
Dwinkie was a punk girl I used to panhandle with sometimes.
She lived in one of the last totally crazy squats on the Lower East Side, the kind with some stolen electricity, lots of candles, and no running water.
Self Portrait in the Tombs Jan 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991
I did two pieces about the last time I was arrested, in January of 1989.
I spent three days, the 72-hour maximum hold, in The Tombs. Cold turkey heroin withdrawal. It was during a bitter freeze so the cops had rounded up all the homeless women and sex workers they could find, along with the junkies. There were about thirty five women in the cell, half of which you can see in the works above and below. I didn’t draw the toilet.
4am in the Tombs acrylic on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
The sex workers, who were mostly not junkies and not in withdrawal like the rest of us, were bored and lively.
At 4 a.m. one night they were playing Simon Says, and I watched, when I wasn’t vomiting or purging black diarrhea on the single open toilet in the middle of the cell. I thought, “This is incredible material. I’ll use this some day.” I dug the pathos, the Hunter Thompson vibe of it.
left side collage mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
I don’t think about it that way today, though. I think about how sad it was.
collage right mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
I got to be shipped off to a fancy treatment center, and got to stay in a nice halfway house for four months.
I could never have stayed sober otherwise. I also didn’t die when I overdosed on methadone because my mother let me stay at home, horrible as it was for her, while I was using.
20th st with mom collage mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes
My mom was there to call the paramedics, who revived me.
I was so, so incredibly blessed by her compassion for me. Yes, I did the work to stay sober. I have done it all these years. But I also had incredible opportunities, great resources, and tremendous inspiration and support from my mom. Most people have none of those things.
The truth is, I’m not very interested in talking about these shitty junkie stories now.
What I do think is important is how goddam good the work I did then was. The big collage had three bright watercolors in it, about my recovery. The one above is my first night sober, detoxing at Hanley Hazelden treatment center in West Palm Beach on Jan 27, 1989. I painted the night nurse to look a bit like my mom.
This one is me at a year and a half sober, in my white-painted, loft-like art school apartment.
It was the first place of my own I really set up for my work.
And this is me on the phone with the tv station I worked for, wearing my mom’s nice grey suit, in 1991.
At my beautiful Craftsmen apartment with a fireplace, in my last year of school, already working regularly as a courtroom artist and working hard to break into comics. It was the last piece for the collage; I am turned away from the viewer, because the period of processing and disclosing the past is over.
I never forget it, though. Every night when I go to bed, I say a prayer of thanks for my safety and freedom, and I remember that cell in The Tombs.
Every night, I know what a miracle and a blessing it is that I am alive, and sober, and have a bed to sleep in (except for those two nights in recovery I have had to sleep in my car). Don’t leave before the miracle happens.
These paintings and drawings had never been photographed; until now, 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.
I researched many different types of lights. I got a new type of LED strips for the station, then decided they wouldn’t work. It still has no lights!
I did permanently assemble the subway car seats, using a combination of hot glue and carpet tape to really square them up nicely, and filled in gaps with my beloved Apoxie Sculpt, a cleaner and more paintable finish than spackle. And I spent several years finding vintage 1980s ads to line the headers and side panels. Brooke Shields for Calvin! Take the Plane to the Train! And of course, Crazy Eddie! He’s practically GIVING this stuff away!!!
But I was nervous about the lights. I studied the solutions in use by action figure diorama people, and battery-operated flexible LED strips with adhesive backs seemed the clear winner.
So I did the final customizing and light install on the car…this month!!
I decided Winter 2020 would be my midlife nostalgia and taking stock time.
Somehow, I found the psychic strength and motivation to tackle the hugearchiveproject I’d been putting off since the summer of 2015.
And hub and I got to the third season of The Deuce, where they are in 1984. The silhouettes of the coats and the way people’s bangs moved gave me such a stab in the heart of grief, loss and unstuck-in-time that I had to stop our watching for a month.
Then once I’d dug into the archives for a couple weeks I was like fine, I can take it, I’m literally soaking in it anyway.
So we watched the rest of The Deuce, and I’m on twitter talking to the New Mutants fans, and on Instagram talking to the wonderful storyboard artist for the movie, Ashley Guillory, and it’s just 80s all over the place. It is poignant, piquant, sickening, and motivating.
I made the arms for the seats by softening styrene cylinders with a lighter, and yikes they looked like my old drug pipe, lying around.
I had to quickly throw out the failed tries (bending styrene is hard!) because seeing them out of the corner of my eye was freaking me out. Once spraypainted silver, though, they look great!
I didn’t tag the subway car with real writer’s tags, for the most part.
I was drained by the emotional work of connecting with all this material, and unnerved by the shockingly real look of the car. I just made up lots of random tags. “SEO” actually appears multiple times, because it looked good! I put up the tags of my dead boyfriends and old friends here and there, in the layers of gray-scale marker, but I let it not be the focus. I needed to get this project done, at last.
It is shocking that I survived, and critical that I work, for all the ones who didn’t.
Having this piece done, and putting it in its cubicle underneath the dollhouse, is like sealing up the now-recorded archives of 80s and 90s artwork. It creates a way forward where nostalgia and grief are gently given their places, and respectfully packaged, out of view of my daily life.
You can read more about my dollhouses and their function as memory palace (Gedächtnispalast), Valhalla and memorial below.