Suzanne Forbes is a traditionally trained figurative artist, writer and bricoleur. She is an expat New Yorker living and thriving in Berlin with her third husband and their two cats.
In previous lives she was a courtroom artist for CBS and CNN, a penciller for DC Comics on Star Trek, and a live-drawing chronicler of Bay Area alternative culture.
Pretty freaky to look at and handle these drawings. They have been in storage for decades, traveling the US and the world with me. The one above is the oldest. It’s a picture of me and my friend Gix, drawn probably winter 1982. I would have been fifteen and Gix seventeen. We are both wearing clothes and jewelry we actually wore at the time, and smoking, as we did, all the time. For the Europeans reading this, the header comes from a saying attributed to P.T. Barnum:
There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.
This one is from Spring 1984; I believe it is the self-portrait I drew for my Parsons application, or the study for it.
I wore harem pants a lot in the first half of the 80s. I don’t apologize; they were the only form of pants I ever liked. My husband and I are watching the first season of “The Deuce” and last night Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character was wearing earrings exactly like the ones I am wearing in this drawing, which were silver and turquoise, with hawks on them.
This is from around 1985, I think.
The dress here is very similar to a flowered, corseted Betsey Johnson dress I owned, although drawn much longer, and the drawing is probably a school assignment.
This is from Spring 1986.
I was a sophomore in the Illustration Program at Parsons and chipping, which means using heroin only on weekends. The still-life below, a 1986 class assignment, is also sort of a self-portrait; it’s my cigarettes and my pipe (people used to smoke heroin, no idea if they still do). Clean and sober 30 years this past January 27, babies!
And this one below is also from late 1986, or early 1987, I believe.
You can see some painted self-portraits from when I was newly sober and first learning to paint here in another archive post.
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.
Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.
Places that were institutions when we arrived in 2015 are closing down, or having to move. I grew up in Manhattan, and I have seen this story unfold in Chelsea in the 80s, and in San Francisco in the 90s.
Beloved dancehall Clärchens Ballhaus is one of the institutions in transition. The building has been sold. The current operator, Christian Schulz, says his lease expires at the end of this year. The ragged old beauty of a building is going to be renovated, and more will be revealed. We can only hope for the best, a space that the community can continue to enjoy and not condos.
I desperately wanted to go before they close at the end of the year, to draw a dance session.
But with my health issues and endless medical appointments, making a plan to attend a dance session was very tough.
Instead, my hub and I used a gift from my mom-in-law to go to a fancy dinner-with-dancing for our five year wedding anniversary. It was held in the SpiegelSaal or Hall of Mirrors, with fantastic music, and lucky for me, there were some terrific dancers!
Above, my husband enjoys the music.
His rapt expression is because he‘s listening to the amazing band play The Flight of the Bumblebee, which he says is extraordinarily difficult to play on the piano. The band was Pan Marek on Drums, Alexej Wagner on guitar and Eugen Miller on double bass and vocals, as well as the marvelous piano player whose name I gotta get. He looked like a biker Deadhead but he was superb on the keys!
Clärchens Ballhaus is, as it were, a kind of story machine, a site of conjecture. The German illustrator and photographer Heinrich Zille had his regular place at the bar, where he used to sit and draw. And Otto Dix painted the poster in 1931, which is still used today.
To become part of a community is to open the door to loss.
Community is fluid, like gender, like cities. A local business becomes a hub of connection and expression, and then economic forces make that business unsustainable. Ludwig was a bar, an art gallery, a performance space, a clubhouse for Queer Berliners. It existed from 02.06.16 to 21.09.19. And it was located in a rapidly gentrifying area where construction has overshadowed street access for the last several years.
You don’t know sad til you’ve heard a trans girl sing “Send in the Clowns” on the last night of one of the safest spaces you’ve ever known.
Everyone tried to save Ludwig, but it’s not always possible to keep things. Running a business is brutally hard on small business owners, and when we love those people, when they’re artists and part of our community, we want them to be saved too, not used up fighting economic and structural factors. It’s a story that happens every day in every city, and it breaks our hearts.
The last night at Ludwig was very fucking sad.
My husband came out with me, only the second time he came out in 2019, because, well, it was important. He even dressed up super spiffy. As always, Maurus Knowles brought me my favorite non-alcoholic beverage, Ostmost Apfel-Minze schorle. Ceven Knowles made a playlist that began with “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing”, so perfect it seared my heart. Dear Transophonix, above, made a processional to the stage and performed a dirge, filling the space.
The tables out front were packed, spilling over, with colorful queens and queers and non-binary folx. We were all heavy with loss, and yet also exuberant, because of the community we have. Dan and I left pretty early, because my heart was spilling over too.
Thank you, Maurus and Ceven, for giving me the place my life in Berlin truly began.
I am incredibly sad that my beloved Dr. Sketchy’s Berlin is ending.
Lala Vox has poured her heart and soul into it for ten years, creating an event beyond anyone’s imaginings, and needs to let it go now. Co-producer Syren Joey, who has done fantastic work the last couple years, also has reasons to not be producing a big elaborate event.
Liliana is a friend and muse who I have drawn many times because she is one of the hardest-working entertainers in Berlin. I’ve caught her doing stand-up, producing variety shows, hosting New Year’s events, teaching the tango at her live talk show, and more.
She is also a professional life model, who worked for seven years at the top New York art schools, including the Art Student’s League and the School of Visual Arts, two of the places where I went to school!
There is nothing like the grace and elegance of an experienced artists’ model, who can tell a story in their gaze or the arch of a foot.
Liliana is also now teaching self-defense to women and minorities at Pretty Deadly Self Defense, a valuable Berlin resource I am hoping to check out soon!
Here is a picture of me at my usual table at a Sketchy’s earlier this year, by Maren Michaelis.
I absolutely encourage all Dr. Sketchy’s Berlin folks who haven’t yet been to visit Drink and Draw Berlin’s gorgeous and welcoming historic boat. The boat is docked on the river Spree, and is set up as a permanent life drawing space, with model platforms, hanging drapery, props, easels, and a variety of seating including very comfy! There are weekly drawing classes, events and more.
When I let myself go with an obsession, I really let go!
The embroidered pitcher plant is only my second embroidery piece this year – I have had much less time and energy for the most time-consuming art of all, textile art. I used embroidery thread, regular satin sewing thread, two types of metallic thread, iridescent beads, and metallic filament on this piece. The little fly has beads for eyes!
It was wonderful to go back to embroidery with a fresh subject, and the curvilinear forms of plants are so satisfying to stitch. The other embroidery piece I finished in 2019 has been sold but the pitcher plant is available.
Work has been ongoing with the sculpting of evil alien Venus flytraps; I did a second batch in polymer clay to incorporate translucency, marbling and sparkle.
I mixed Sculpey Bake and Bend 50/50 with the translucent clay to get a more flexible, less breakable result, in case any of these get used for wearable art.
Bake and Bend is softer than even FIMO Soft, which helps because I find kneading polymer clay painful on my hands.
Pre-baking all the little teeth to harden them meant I could attach them to the baked leaves by pressing them into the unbaked clay gumline, a rough tube of raw clay laid in the leaf in a horseshoe shape.
Then I re-baked the leaves with their teeth in. One of the first things I learned about polymer clay was that you can add to your pieces with raw clay and bake them over and over! I was shocked!
After baking the Bake and Bond becomes a translucent, matte glaze over the parts you brushed it on. Then when you paint over it with FIMO gloss, it gets more transparent.
I like to varnish my polymer clay pieces even though the experts suggest it may not be archival – it increases the transparency of translucent clays, which I often use, and creates a nice creepy slick surface.
I left the place at the back of the flytraps where they would be attached to things unvarnished, so that whatever bonding agent I used would adhere to the clay and not the varnish.
Many of the flytraps also have a floral wire stem built in, in case I needed it – if I don’t I just snip it off!
I attached the finished flytraps to the plastic succulents with a glue gun, which some people say holds up well with polymer clay. Because I am a suspenders-and-belt person, I also used some gel crazy glue (gel-type Cyanoacrylate glues or Zap-a-Gap remain flexible, which is important for plastics). I think I will put some of these plant-style flytraps in little pots, with fake moss. The ones shown here are a mix of polymer clay ones and air-drying clay ones. I also added some “silk” floral leaves for color and variety.
You can read here about the first batch of Alien Venus Flytraps, made with airdrying clay, paint, gel medium and a glue gun.
I also finished shingling the roof of the new dollhouse and I am very proud!!! Endless love to my Mama who brought the laser-cut real asphalt shingles from the US!!!
I know, there haven’t been any unterwegs for so long!
And some of my Patrons as well as many of my followers really enjoy them; I’m sorry I haven’t been making them. Unfortunately the last nine months or so have just been a mess with my health, and I haven’t gone anywhere except to doctors, most of whom are walking distance or one subway stop away. I’m feeling better now, and have had a little bit of energy for going to things. And since we live where all the doctors are but none of the nightlife is, that means riding the U-Bahn!
Above, a lady with gloves I saw while heading to the Drink And Draw Berlin boat for a Dr. Sketchy’s/D&D Berlin session. The guy behind her was just staring at me. Not like people usually stare at me – because watching someone draw is vaguely interesting, or because seeing someone draw on the subway is unusual, or I am wearing a giant fly made of Swarovski crystals on my head or whatever. This guy was staring at me like I was one more random event in a day that didn’t make sense. I felt for him, but I liked the way his arm was just hanging there, so I drew him anyway. I do not believe the bottle was his; it had rolled from a different part of the car.
This guy was very aware that I was drawing him.
I had caught his eye when I sat down across from him because I swung my bag around to get my sketchbook out and accidentally bonked the lady next to me. I apologized loudly in my American way, saying “Entschuldigung! Tut mir leid!” while the lady snorted and everyone looked over. Then I saw the guy sitting back so serenely, and started drawing him. And he realized it, and actually posed! Which happens occasionally, but not often, on the U-Bahn.
I splashed out and bought a front-row seat for the ten-year anniversary of Berlin’s PorYes Awards.
The awards were held this year in the beautiful HAU1 theater of the woman-run Hebbel am Ufer. Since 2009, the PorYes award (which is a sparkling, open crystal oyster!) stands for respectful portrayal of all genders and a diverse sexuality.
She created the first lesbian adult film production company, Fatale Media. I absolutely adored seeing clips of her filmsfrom the 80s – they are funny and playful and sexy, with safer sex education and wonderful characters.
Dr. Loree Erickson is doing such important work in empowering queercrips.
Her critical academicwork is in practices of resistance such as the “sexy femmegimp politics of flaunting it”, she makes art that fearlessly articulates desire for historically forbidden bodies, and she was wearing leopard and metallic fucshia which is my favorite.
Wayne Yung talked about the reactions he got when he began bringing feminist gay films to festivals.
He said it was not initially an easy concept to sell! I highly recommend a visit to his site to check out his deep catalog of video art – he has produced an incredible body of work.
The costumes and sets, by Le Pustra, are simply unbelievable, and everyone has such a unique look. I knew I would be spoilt for choice!!
My jaw fell off my face when I saw Charly Voodoo walk onstage.
As a corset-lover (some might say hardcore corset fetishist!) I am always thrilled when I see someone seriously corseted. Charly Voodoo‘s whole look was incredible, with a lace head mask, high heels and stockings. He is absolutely beautiful (as is his husband Pierre-Louis, a dancer and plant-lover who revealed so much more! Sadly, I did not have a chance to draw Pierre-Louis!)
Charly’s corset is by Maxim Blotin, a young corsetmaker in Paris. It looked like satin coutil to me but apparently is made of something called leather satin! It is either corded or quilted, with gores, and a near-pipestem cut. I did not draw the details accurately, which pains me, but I think I got the shaping right. His mask, by Kevin Jacotot, was a thrilling challenge. I was so excited I really couldn’t even see straight.
Next to Charly above, singer and violinist Shir-Ran Yinon, woman of exquisite profile and fabulous pipes.
And then Charly Voodoo started to play the piano!!
Amazingly!! He is FAB. And then, I got a special ringside seat for a spectacular vignette involving Julietta la Doll, one telephone, two glasses of water and no pants!! But I can’t share anything about that on this family-friendly blog, so here’s another drawing of Bridge Markland!
You can find out what wild theater and performance Bridge is up to right here, if you’re not too afraid of her wild soul!
Her staging of an 1890s “German screwball comedy” with puppets is coming up Nov. 29- Dec. 1, at another beautiful Berlin venue, the Theater im Delphi.
Legendary Berlin performing artistReverRso, who unrolled a strip of cutwork cotton from his mouth as he danced in a lace dress, then blindfolded himself.
That is producer and torch song singer Le Pustra above, limned in glitter.
Wigs for the show are done by hair artistNina Butkovich-Budden. They are devastating, characters in their own right. The suberb stage managing is by Lady White Rabbit, who I hadn’t seen in ages – she took very good care of me! I can’t imagine this immersive, improvisational show anywhere but at the historic and louche Ballhaus Berlin. This theater is a treasure, and I hope it will be preserved as a venue for some time.
Speaking of which, I gotta get to Clärchens Ballhaus before they shut it down. Should I draw tango or swing?
As always, I’m incredibly grateful to my Patrons on Patreon. I couldn’t show up and tell these folx’ stories without the monthly financial support of my Patrons, especially as my health has declined this year. The subway was inexplicably just not working when I left Ballhaus tonight, and the fact that I could hail a taxi to go home means so much. I might otherwise have spent hours figuring out a sequence of trams, buses and trains to get home – I have before, and it’s brutal on my body and on my psyche.
I will be increasingly asking for disability accommodations at venues, as I simply can’t move, stand, or do the things I once could.
Le Pustra was kind enough to let me in the theater early to find a seat that was comfortable for me. Pure luck that I picked the one where Julietta was going to be making a very naughty phone call – my luck, that is! I was also very grateful to both Mayliss – stage manager Lady White Rabbit – and Julietta la Doll for warning me about the water in Julietta’s performance and making sure my art wasn’t damaged!
I was so excited when Cadbury Parfait told me she was producing a fantasy-themed Extravagant Shambles!
There is nothing I love like some dark fantasy and mythology – mix with burlesque and drag acts and you get pure entertainment mithril! (lil geek joke there for ya. Very little.) This Shambles was in the Club at Kunsthaus ACUD MACHT NEU, an epic Berlin queer art space. I don’t get to Mitte much, but I had been previously been to an art show there with artist and curator Suzanne Wegh – they are the source of all my art event hot tips. Above, Alan Lee (but not THAT Alan Lee) as Alexa Spread did a terrifying, grasping Gollum, then rose into a column of light and became Galadriel.
Darell Haynes, Louisiana born but now singing his heart out in Berlin, sang “I See Fire” from the second Hobbit flick.
He just filled the room; it was one of those moments that makes the hairs on your arms stand up. He is an actual trained professional opera singer, which is not what you are expecting in the club where the entrance always smells a little like piss. Darell was on German tv show Supertalent last year, with the group Mo’Voce! You can see them sing and get a standing ovation here.
I always love to draw her. My friend and Patron Daniel Paikov was there taking pictures with his usual sang-froid, managing despite the fact that the ACUD Club is a dark cave of bloody light. We nightlife documenters find a way!
She was an ethereal Persephone who stripped down for a deep dive into the darkness of Winter. I so much appreciate coming to her productions, as they are always inclusive and amazing, and she makes sure I feel welcome and have a seat.
I didn’t draw everyone at this show – and I didn’t draw my muse Noéline la Bouche for an unusual reason. Noéline performed as the Goddess “Yemaya – mère de l’eau”, and I was so captivated by her dance choreography and costume for this number I actually decided to just watch! But you can see photos of her doing the act!
This has been a terrible year for me healthwise as a disabled artist, and crowdfunded support is the only way I can make this work and release it for free. I’m so grateful to my Patrons, who make my work happen.
I went to celebrated cinema Babylon Kreuzberg for the screening of my friend Sadie Lune’s new movie from Maria Beatty, Spit and Ashes.
The whole scene was like Planet of the Invasion of the Sexy Young Queers. Basically no-one had any gender binary and no-one had any hair on the sides of their head. If I hadn’t already been dizzy and exhausted I would have been knocked into a chair by the sheer gorgeous life and freedom of the young people. I drew this blue-haired artist while they were waiting in line.
Everyone was looking fantastic and fearless.
While waiting I got to IRL meet and talk to Sara Niedorf, co-founder of Final GirlsBerlin Film Festival, Berlin’s marvelous showcase for horror films produced, directed and written by women. As the crowd lined up for Spit and Ashes, I saw an old friend from SF! He had wanted to let me know he was in Berlin but decided to respect my mentioning health issues on my twitter. It was so good to hug an old friend who understands the challenges of my life with disability.
When Sadie arrived, she was in full Witch regalia and breathtaking! Director of Production Jo Pollux was gleaming like a fey creature, spooky and ethereal.
I hugged them and then I had to leave, because I have been having a crushing Hashimoto’s flareup; I was feeling like hammered shit. I am so damn sad I couldn’t see their gorgeous movie on the big screen with that amazing crowd. But I had already done one event that day, live-drawing Shine Louise Houston teaching film-making, and then gotten mixed up and gone to Moviemento (where I had drawings on display this year btw!!!) instead, and had to cab it to Babylon. I was in spoon debt already.
I didn’t have any trouble at all accepting that I’m an alcoholic and an addict and that addiction is a lifelong, incurable disease. But I am having a terribly hard time accepting that autoimmune illness has permanently changed my life. Every time I get better I think I’m better for good; every time I get worse I feel consumed with guilt and grief for the work I’m not doing and terrified of a future where I may be able to do less and less.
If I didn’t have this monthly financial support, I wouldn’t be able to work at all. The flexibility of being supported by Patrons is so critical to my work. I’m writing this flat on my back on the couch on a Halloween night when all over town my friends are doing beautiful events I desperately want to document – but at least, thanks to my Patrons, I can take the time to scan, edit and post these drawings of cool young folx, and share them with the world.