Category Archives: Artwork Archives

Older original artworks by Berlin-based artist Suzanne Forbes.

Self portraits of the artist as a child.

From Adirondacks photo black white acrylic on paper Winter 1992 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI did a number of self-portraits of myself as a little kid when I was at my final art school, The Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

This black and white painting is from a sad, weird black and white photo of me around age 7 or 8, taken at our cabin in the Adirondacks. The kids are my brother, far left, then me, staring dead-eyed at the photographer, and my father’s girlfriend Cathy’s kids, Carla and Ethan.

I think this was painted in 1990, but it could have been 1991.

Adirondacks 1970s Aaron Rachel Carla EthanI loved Carla and I was really glad to be in the hammock at the cabin; I was just an angry, suffering kid. At this age I was dealing with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, which meant I woke up hours later than everyone else, depression and the invasive and violating sexual words and behavior of my father. I would be molested by a stranger within a year or two.

I was kicked out of my private school because of acting out at eight.

Drawing lessons with Janine circa 1974 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is me and my first art teacher, Janine.

Janine was a professional illustrator who lived on the sixth floor of the building I grew up in, 312 West 20th St. in Chelsea. For a while when I was seven my father hired her to give me private lessons. She was the person who taught me about the “Line of Action” or gestural line of a drawing, using a drawing of a leaping leopard. I drew a leash around the leopard’s neck at the end of our lesson, so it wouldn’t run away!

You can see the Empire State Building out of her window – you could see it from her side of the building. I drew this in my last year at MCAD, I think – 1992. I drew myself as this avid, volatile kid – wildly eager to learn but with trouble behaving normally. In retrospect I look large for seven but Janine was a very small person!

Child self at easel drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes circa 1990This is from 1991 or 1992, a picture of myself as a ten-year-old in class at The Art Student’s League.

I remember those classes vividly, the experience of learning to draw from a still life and using pastels for the first time – beginning of a love-hate relationship! Learning to draw the center line on a bottle to make it symmetrical. Learning to observe.

At this age I had recently cut my own hair off with household scissors, because my father loved my long hair, and was also now living with OCD and disordered eating. I was incredibly angry.

Rachel on Bucky summer 1977 or 8 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Rachel Forbes Spring 1992This is a picture of me around age 10, on my rented pony, Bucky.

NYC Xmas 1970sWe had a ramshackle Victorian farmhouse with a big barn in Northern Maine, and some of the summers my father rented a pony for me and I kept it in the barn.

Or tied on a long lead to a birch tree in the backyard, grazing, for long summer hours. Horses were my great obsession and comfort, both my model horse collection and the real ones in the summers.

This drawing of me lying on Bucky’s back was made, but not used for, my senior thesis project, an artist’s book about childhood sexual abuse and my own history as CSA survivor.

I realize that my story contains immense privilege – TWO country houses! An actual pony! Private drawing lessons, private school and art school! So many toys! And this privilege, like my mom’s unconditional love, is a huge part of the extraordinary resilience I’ve shown my entire life. But things are not simple. My father, a product of violent childhood abuse and the Great Depression, was obsessed with education and property.

So we had houses in the country, but very rough ones, with no bathroom at the cabin. We didn’t have a single towel that matched another at home; sometimes my father had no cash until the next article sale, the next antique sold to a collector, the next book advance.

I had art school and private lessons because of very basic Drama of The Gifted Child stuff – my father wanted me to be a famous artist, a prodigy, for his own narcissistic reasons. Art was never “play” for me; it was a high-risk undertaking where my entire identity was at stake. It was my way of validating my existence; having a right to live.

My mom holding me in the Adirondacks in 1967

Not gonna lie, in these days of quarantine, I still feel like my work is the most precious part of my life history.

I know I have impacted people as I have been sober 31 years; people say I saved them. I know I’ve been kind to people in ways that matter. But I have also done much harm, and I carry that. My work is the part of my legacy I trust, because I became an artist who tells other peoples’ stories. I became an artist who is about documenting other people’s uniqueness and preciousness, and I think that’s beautiful and transcendent.

Noeline la Bouche at Berlin Berlin Burlesque Week by Suzanne Forbes June 20 2019

Noeline la Bouche at Berlin Berlin Burlesque Week, June 20 2019 – one of my favorite portraits I’ve ever made.

I’m enormously grateful to have found this life path.

Some of 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 so grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

 

Drawings from the Halfway House: Portraits from the earliest days of my sobriety.

Sue at Fellowship Mar 9 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe first thing I started drawing, when I arrived at Fellowship House in St. Paul, was the people around me.

This portrait of a woman named Sue in the living room of “The House” was drawn on March 9, 1989, so I had only been sober 41 days, and only at Fellowship a few days. Newly sober, I was still completely determined to be a comic artist, and wanted to get back to practicing. Sue reminded a lot of my teenage bestie GIlly.

Michael at Fellowship April 11 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesMy beloved friend Michael. Michael and I shared a connecting bathroom in the last month we were in the house, as “Senior Peers”.

He was a marvelous professional Broadway singer and dancer; we went to Alvin Ailey together. I loved to hear him bustling in the bathroom, making fabulous. He was so handsome, and posed so well! I think I drew those kinda ’80s design elements of the circles to reference the stage. His T-cell count was ok when I was last in touch with him, so I very much hope he made it to the next generation of treatments.

Scott at Fellowship June 27 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is Scott.

I don’t think I slept with him, but it looks like I would have liked to?

A lot of the guys at the house wore those preppy Hamptons shoes. Dockers maybe?

Rebeckah.

A ferocious, feisty girl from Queens, drawn April 7, 1989. She was so young, not even twenty. This is from a photocopy; she kept the original.

Julia at Fellowship May 7 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesJulia, my friend and roommate, who I called “Jewel”.

She was lying on the hill behind the house (which was the old Schmidt brewery owners’ mansion) in the early Spring sun. People used to come lounge on the “Beach” as we called it and wait for me to draw them.

Me and Julia at Fellowship April 7 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI also did a drawing of Julia and I in the room we shared.

Being a single mom and a working-class lady, she was orderly and had her shit together, despite the whole alcoholic thing. So she found my sloppiness and chaos astounding. However, this was a day when we’d both gotten packages from home (thank you Mom!!!) and so the mess was truly a remarkable thing to witness.

Ray at Fellowship March 191989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is Ray.

He was a kind, haunted, deeply depressed man; he killed himself not too long after I made this drawing. This is a photocopy; I gave the original of the drawing to his family, who were glad to have a picture from the last year of his life.

A lot of people I knew in treatment killed themselves even in the first year.

A lot of them relapsed. A lot of them had HIV or AIDS. And hepatitis. The odds for recovery from chemical dependency are very, very poor. I know I’ve been incredibly lucky, and I’ve been living on borrowed time since I was 22. But I’d like to keep living, and working, anyway!

So I am on total self-isolation, with my husband, and expect to remain so indefinitely. For months, possibly. If I have to stay inside for a year to survive this, I will totally fucking do it.

I’ve been doing fine without alcohol and heroin since 1989, surely I can manage a year without outside!

Only one of these portraits had ever been photographed; no modern media record of the rest existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever. And of course, I am the only person who knows when they were made and why, the story of the people in the pictures.

As a highly-vulnerable person with asthma and auto immune illness, it seems more important than ever to document my life’s work. Not morbid, just pragmatic!

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.