Tag Archives: contemporary portrait painting

New portrait painting in progress: Sebastian in brights.

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018I am super pleased with how this portrait of a new friend is coming along.

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018 detailSebastian is a circus performer and producer who comes from the Oz steampunk scene and has some fabulous outfits.

He calls this one his “Snow White” colors and I love how the brights pop against the soft colors of the salon.

I have had more of a challenge finding people who are into dressing up for fun in Berlin than I did in the Bay Area. This isn’t a dress-up town, alas.

I love people who love clothes and fashion and performative identity and was happy to find another collaborator!

Above is after the second sitting. Here’s after the first.

Using a canvas toned gray the way Sargent did has speeded up my painting even more. You can see the edge of the gray along the right side below!

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018 first sitting

This portrait will be done in one more sitting I expect.

And then I need to get back to the painting of Shakrah, which was interrupted for a long spell by the bus accident and my hand injury!

 

Archiving some very early portrait paintings.

Portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum fall 1989One of the very first portraits I ever painted.

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. Detail portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1989My 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.

detail Portrait of Brad Geiken by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1990Another 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.

Opening my heart through my fear. A work in progress.

I invited total strangers I met on the U-Bahn into my house and made them food. Then we made art together.The Walz by Suzanne Forbes WIP CU November 16 2016

It might not seem like a big deal to you, but to me, a skittering omnibus of aggregated phobias, it was a big deal.

journeyman packs in BerlinI was on the U-Bahn heading to ESDIP to teach my Hand Drawing class when a group of young people caught my eye. They look like cowboys in daguerreotypes from the Old West, I thought.

I kept glancing at them through the crowd. Wearing thick, homespun-looking clothes with worn leather trim on the pockets and cuffs, broad-brimmed black hats, and one gold earring, they were romantic and mysterious.

There were two men and a woman, whose heavy cord waistcoat had an embroidered shawl collar.

The Walz by Suzanne Forbes WIP CU November 16 2016Their waistcoats and coats had rows of huge mother-of-pearl and horn buttons, mismatched and full of character. Their thick trousers had vertical double zips where the buttons on a sailor’s pants would be.

They wore pintucked white shirts of what looked like cambric, and scarves of rough loose-woven cotton, and heavy leather boots that had seen the hands of a cobbler.

They had walking sticks that were gnarled and smooth, like roots that had been polished. They seemed relaxed, at ease, comfortable with each other and the East Berlin night. I had to know more.

I wove through the swaying car and approached the oldest, a bearded and tattooed ginger.sketch for The Walz by Suzanne Forbes November 15 2016

I asked, as you do here if you are polite, “May we speak English?” He said yes, and words spilled out of me: “What is the story, you are rocking this amazing look, is it like cowpunk or something, are a you a troupe, what ARE YOU?”

“Oh no”, he said, “We are journeymen. For three years and a day, we must be within not a certain distance of home. We are gardeners and a joiner.” “A joiner?” I asked, amazed. “Like a carpenter?” “Yes”, he said, “We are craftsman on a journey.”

I desperately wanted to paint them. I had my sketchbook with me, and I showed them my U-Bahn sketches of a sleeping Russian teen, of a Turkish guy playing the banjetar. I had my Moo cards in the hot pink carrying case Daria got me and I gave them cards.

I paint people, I said. Would you come to my house and be painted and I’ll make you dinner?

They nodded consideringly, said they would be in touch, and debarked at Schlesisches Tor. I went and taught class and after I told my friend Skye, who was in the class, all about them. “I met these amazing people!” I drew the clothing of the ginger as best I could remember.

Late that night I got an email from the oldest journeyman.

We would like to come tomorrow night, he said in the direct fashion of Germans. I was terrified. I had looked up the journeyman tradition, and got my brain around it a bit, but basically we were talking about homeless strangers coming to my delicate sacred house of precious things. I muscled through the fear and confirmed. I offered to make some simple vegetarian food, which was a good plan as it turned out the fourth of their company is a vegan.

Skye came over for moral support, and brought peppers and onions.

The Walz by Suzanne Forbes Nov 16 2016 WIP CUI sauteed peppers and onion with chunks of smoked tofu, baked a dish of refried black beans (ordered from Amazon, totally unobtainium on the street here) with chipotles in adobo and olive oil, and made this no-fuss vegan cornbread.

I substituted full fat coconut milk for the soy milk, olive oil for the canola, white balsamic for the ACV, German “strong” 1050 flour for the all-purpose, and four tablespoons of date syrup for the sugar. It came out really well!

The journeymen arrived and we ate food together. They were intrigued by our weird house and I could hear them muttering, “Ah! Halloween!” as they looked around. I immediately knew that I had been right to push through my paranoid, everyone is out to get you New Yorker mindset and that these were truly good folk.

We talked of lots of things, had some tea, and then retired to the library to paint.

Jagua dye Wonder Woman skin tattoo by Suzanne Forbes Nov 16 2016.I didn’t have a canvas on hand and wanted to get as much detail as I could in the time we had, so I painted on cold press illustration board for the first time in at least twenty years. Boy howdy, I forgot how easy it is!! I made good progress in the amount of time my strength held out.*

After the painting, we hung out for a while and Ben, one of the journeyman joiners, pulled out a battered plastic Coke bottle. He had recently been in South America, in Brazil, living with indigenous people and weaving and building. He’d brought this bottle of scary indigo fluid back with him, through German customs. (Imagine being that unafraid of your government!). It was jagua, a traditional skin dye or tattoo pigment made from Genipa Americanus, which is an edible fruit.

I painted jagua tattoos on the journeypeople and myself as mementoes of our time together.

Jagua skin dye tattoo of robot by Suzanne Forbes Nov 16 2016.I took photos of their clothes so I can continue to work on the details of the painting, and I’ll be posting more about it.

You can learn more about the journeyman tradition here. Although the part about not using transit doesn’t apply to all journeyman groups, obviously.

This whole experience was so mellow and yet so fucking magical I almost can’t describe it.

My Patrons give me courage. It is the support of my Patrons that makes it possible for me to do things like this, and I am so, so very grateful.

*Which was less than three hours. The times in 2005 when I could sit three sitters in a day, or paint for ten hours straight, are long gone. My stamina, health and vitality were decimated by the recession, having to close my art business, losing my house, losing my health insurance, years of major depressive disorder and suicidal impulses, and being briefly homeless.
Here in safe-for-now Germany I am slowly recovering, but my health may be permanently broken. When artists are marginalized to the point where their survival is touch-and-go, they are damaged. You can support me and other artists on Patreon for as little as a dollar a month, and we will be fucking grateful.

WIP, Quinn in Berlin

Quinn by Suzanne Forbes WIP May 2016This is a very intense month.

I’ve been working on a lot of things, but laggy about sharing them. At the beginning of May I started this portrait of our friend Quinn Norton and her companion. I haven’t had a minute to do any more work on it, but luckily they come to Berlin quite often and we’ll pick it up again on the next visit.

I chose to do the sitting in our library because its earth-tone palette better suited Quinn’s dark copper hair.

Quinn_by_Suzanne_Forbes WIP May 2016

Quinn Norton by Suzanne Forbes ,WIP, May 2016

It will be a ravishing jewel-colored picture when finished!

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