Suzanne Forbes, an expat New Yorker in Berlin. Made possible by the generous support of her Patrons. https://www.patreon.com/SuzanneForbes. Former DC Penciller for Star Trek, former courtroom artist, painting portraits and teaching drawing.
In late summer or early Fall 1989 I did this painting of my beloved, cherished friend John Talbot Wallis. He was staying with me at my little basement apartment in St. Paul, trying to kick heroin. It didn’t work out for him, and he went back to NY and relapsed immediately. I desperately hope he is still alive. Last I heard, in the mid-90s, he was very deep in addiction and had apparently lost most of his teeth. The odds aren’t good, but we junkies are tough as cockroaches. I’ve said a prayer for him every night for almost thirty years.
This was one of the earliest portraits I ever painted, though I had drawn quite a few by this point. To get ready for going back to art school full time, I was taking a painting class in downtown St. Paul, an extension class from the Minneapolis College of Design, with a wonderful woman professor.
I started out painting in acrylic, though there is tremendous bias against acrylics in the figurative and especially portrait painting community.
I really appreciated my teacher’s willingness to let me use acrylics. I was afraid I would have problems with my sobriety if I used oil paints, which involve solvents. I had never been an inhalant abuser, but I was less than a year sober and I wasn’t taking any chances!
I liked acrylics and it turned they are perfectly suited for my run-and-gun, punk rock style of painting, so I’ve never looked back. My palette was a lot more Fauvist early on, partly because I didn’t know how to mix colors or how to see color temperature in shadows.
I had never intended to be a painter – I was gonna be a comic penciller, and have colorists to take care of that! So I had paid little attention to my color theory class at Parsons and stubbornly avoided working in color as much as possible. It was really an accident that led me to becoming a painter, that the only class in the extension program that Fall was a painting class, and that I loved my teacher. I also just really love Fauvism, and I still think my early paintings are terrific examples.
This portrait of John, an homage to The Green Stripe aka Portrait of Madame Matisse, is probably one of the top ten likenesses I’ve ever achieved.
This IS John, who I met at Stuyvesant a day or two after my fourteenth birthday and was close friends and sometimes friends with benefits with til I was 23. He was literally the jolliest drunk I have ever met, a vibrant, loving, wildly creative guy without a mean bone in his body. He was a drummer, an artist, a rapper, and a lover who adored pleasing women.
He turned me on to NWA and The Tubes, and we walked thousands of miles together over Manhattan Island in the 80s. We logged thousands of hours hanging out, writing graffiti, drinking beer, roaming the city or watching MTV. We used to do acid and heroin and watch Jaws 3 in 3D with the colors on the television reversed, laughing hysterically. He had a heart the size of Central Park. Merciful Goddess, I hope he is still alive.
Another redhead, fellow MCAD painter Brad Geiken.
I painted this in the fall of 1990, I think, when Brad and I were together. Brad was a terrific, terrific painter and a really nice boyfriend. He looks mean here but that is the fault of me as the painter, not the man. Or he was mad because I was a shitty girlfriend and he deserved better. He had the most beautiful red hair.
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 record of these paintings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.
Finally got a chance to have another sitting with our friend Quinn and her companion.
Who I refer to as P. or PASR, which is a private joke between two women nearly of an age. We are both much alike and extremely different, she and I.
We’ve had uncannily similar traumas, and we each have our own ways of surviving them. She is completely an LA girl, and I am a New Yorker for life, but we are both robust survivors, absurdly resilient and determinedly creative.
I posed them in the library instead of the salon because the palette suits her Autumn coloring best; this sitting was extra special because her extraordinary child was with us. Ignoring us, like any reasonable teen would!
The day before we painted I said to her, you were one of the reasons I gave my guy a shot.
I figured any guy who had a woman friend like you had to be a guy worth checking out.
“Remember what I said when you got married?” she said, and we laughed. Knowing remarkable people over a lifetime is the first greatest treasure of life. Watching their remarkable children grow up is the second greatest.
I’ve known Dia for years, and made a very good drawing of them at the Edwardian Ball back in the Oughts.
Dia came to my Halloween party in this outfit, dressed as Desire, and I was like “Oh HELL yeah!”
I wanted to seize the opportunity to make a portrait while Dia was still in Berlin, before they headed off to New York for a new job doing important work protecting civil liberties.
I am as giddily pleased with this rock-solid powerhouse portrait as I’ve ever been with anything I’ve done. I think it’s a good indication for the New Year.
My work has always been deeply committed to queer and trans visibility, and I pledge to work as hard as I can on representation with love and respect in 2017.
If you’d like to help support my work, please visit my Patreon!
If you’d like to see more of my work representing diversity, queer love, trans visibility and body positivity, click over to my flickr. Some of the drawings are VERY explicit drawings of queer love and sex, so to see all 98 images in this album you’ll have to have your “adult” safeties off!