Tag Archives: new york in the 80s

Portraits of Victoria, from 1986 to this weekend.

Remote drawing of Victoria Aronoff by Suzanne Forbes March 29 2020I feel like the drawing-through-Zoom thing is working!

At least for people I know, and I’ve known Victoria since 1975! We had a wonderful visit over Zoom on Sunday and I made this drawing, on Strathmore Toned Gray Mixed Media paper.

This one is on illustration board, from 1987.

Note the X-Men comic and the careful rendering of the china set my Mom had then!

Victorian 1986 by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumThis is from 1986.

Can’t remember if it is a black and white study or this is a photo of a photocopy, I found it on the hard drive from my last attempt at archiving all my work, in 2010.

Victoria Fall 1986 19th st and 8th avenue by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is a two-color watercolor study from Fall 1986.

Victoria was my primary model during my NYC art school years. She posed for a lot of portraits. This one was done at one of the Cuban-Chinese train car diners my Chelsea neighbourhood used to be full of. I used to give her downers to help her hold still, so her expression may be the result of a lot of Valium.

drawing of Victoria Aronoff by Suzanne Forbes 1993I did this one in January 1993.

I had at that point met and moved in with my first husband, Steve, and we were living in a big duplex in St. Paul. I think this was in NY, although Victoria lived in DC at the time. She came up to the city because I had gone to a comic convention in New York; I was just about to finally break into comics.

Rachel Ketchum with Victoria on Great Jones St. 1980Here’s Victoria and I in her mother’s painting studio at their loft on Great Jones St. in 1980.

Photo by her mom, the artist J. Nebraska Gifford. I was thirteen and she was fourteen. We would say we were staying at each other’s houses and just stay out all night wandering the Village.

Victoria Aronoff NYE 1995 by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumThis is Victoria on New Year’s Eve 1995, in DC.

We had made strange and elaborate hats out of newspaper, and there was some kind of walkie-talkie game?

Victoria and Gideon Aronoff NYE 1995 by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumAnd this one is Victoria and her former husband, Gideon.

You can see some of Victoria’s recent art on this guest post here. We are about to start a collaboration – I’m gonna embroider one of her drawings!

Only a couple 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 moments in the pictures.

As a highly-vulnerable person with asthma and autoimmune 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.

More archive art about addiction, from 1991.

In the ambulance with Mom mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

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

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

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

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

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

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.

And how sad the carceral state and the opioid epidemic and the continuing criminalisation of sex work is. My part as a participant and witness sucked, but addressing the overarching spectrum of human suffering is so much more important. My escape from the sorrow, degradation and horror was in so many ways a function of my privilege.

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

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.

Hazelden mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe 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.

St Paul 1990 watercolor on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis 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.