She wanted to do another session, while I was actually working, so we set up a time with Shakrah, who I had recently started a second portrait of.
Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved
I love Mirella’s work and her way of using available light and her handheld flash to capture a close and realistic view of her subject.
Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved
We were so relaxed and comfortable with her presence as she worked.
During the sitting, at one point Shakrah was lounging elegantly on my boudoir chair while Mirella shot some close-ups of me.
I looked up and saw her and I yelled, “THAT is the look!” and grabbed my brush to make superfast big changes to the painting.
I changed her pose from standing to sitting in about ten minutes!
Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved
As you can see, I changed the painting quite a lot. I don’t often make such big changes between the first and second sittings, unless some new aspect of my model just captivates me. Or I accidentally painted my model standing on the wrong leg, like in this portrait of my beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Ramon!)
Somehow I feel like you have more of a sense of Shakrah as a singer in the new version even though I haven’t painted the mike in yet, like she’s pausing by your table in the cabaret.
We had such a lovely time working together with Mirella, it was amazing. Once my hand is healed enough for the cast to come off Shakrah and I will reconvene and finish the painting!
You can see our first sitting here and the previous portrait Shakrah and I did together here. Thanks so, so much to my beautiful Patrons on Patreon for providing the monthly sponsorship that allows me to tell women’s stories and collaborate with women artists!
I was trained in art school to archive and document my work.
But although I am a excellent archivist and curator (and collector and hoarder), I am a terrible photographer. I took photography in the analog days, and learned how to focus a camera and develop film, both in the Illustration Program at Parsons and in the Fine Arts Program at MCAD.
I hated it. At MCAD, having slides of your paintings prepared was part of your grade, and I got my boyfriend at the time to do some of the work. I still have very nearly all the art I’ve ever made except what I’ve sold, but even with the advent of digital cameras, I haven’t photographed very much of it. Until today, no photographic record of these works existed whatsoever. If we had a fire, they would just be gone.
I did scan a lot of what would fit on the scanner back in 2009, and you can find it here.
I find handling a camera physically exhausting and stressful, but scanning is just tedious.
A couple years ago my bestie Daria gave me a proper digital camera.
She had upgraded, and brought me her Lumix from her flat in Moscow (she made sure to change all the settings to English from Russian!) I hadn’t had one for a while and it took me forever to find out what kind of cable it needed to connect to the computer (Daria couldn’t find hers) and then to order it on eBay.
But the computer I had until January was an ancient Chromebook, and it didn’t have the power to run photo editing programs or any storage.
So I had another excuse to put off documenting the archives of work I have here in our flat and in my artwork storage locker north of the city.
Even though the pressure to do it has been growing for years, as much of it is on newsprint paper or cardboard and it is not archival.
In January a friend and patron gave me a new-to-me computer, a proper ThinkPad with vast memory. (As my friends and Patrons know, I hate to buy technology and hardware and almost always get it as gifts from my tech-loving loved ones!) It’s time.
I hope my patrons will find the process interesting; I plan to do one or two archive posts a month.
These two self-portraits were done in my earliest painting class, I believe, in Fall 1989. I was 22.
It was a class I took when I was less than a year sober, waiting to get into the full-time BFA program at MCAD, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I had gone to St. Paul, Minnesota to follow up my initial 34-day drug treatment for alcoholism and heroin addiction with four months in the Hazelden halfway house, Fellowship House.
Getting out of the halfway house, I decided to stay in Minnesota, as all the New York junkies I knew who went back to New York relapsed.
When we had our first sitting for a planned pastel portrait, I knew I needed colors to depict Shakrah Yves. A 1920s jazz singer and former professional costumier, she has an absolute treasury of gorgeous outfits she has created, with matching accessories.
There was no way I could do justice to her emerald sparkles with the nervous forays I’d made into pastel color thus far.
You can see the results of our first sitting, in sepia and umber colors accented with black and white, here.
I got two sets of new pastels, oil and chalk, and some mixing stumps, as a birthday gift. I took a trial run at adding color by enriching the portrait of Iris Perez, left, before her partner took it back to the Bay Area for her.
When Shakrah arrived for our second sitting, I was ready. SO many colors!
I rarely set up my paint palette with more than fifteen, and here I had at least 70. I added color to the drawing with chalk pastels first, as they are easier to remove, layer over and blend without muddiness. The chalk pastel also behaved well with the white gel pen highlights from the previous sitting. The gel pen ink seemed to act as a resist, sealing the surface of the paper. That meant I didn’t lose the highlights.
I’m using Canson Mi Teintes, which is gelatin-sized and has some kinda crazy microscopic hyper-surface-area (mechanical resistance) to attract and hold pigments.*
Then I put oil pastel over the chalk, because I am punk as fuck.
I was careful because past experiences with oil pastels had taught me that things get muddy fast. You can lose color purity quickly with oil pastels, and wind up with tints you can’t shake.
While chalk pastel is close to painting in the sense that it has limited additive/subtractive properties, oil pastel is less flexible.
You can scrape it back down, but the surface will be permanently stained.
When you apply oil pastel over chalk pastel, the chalk slides like graphite dust under the stick.
It takes some focus to control the resulting mix, but it gives a rich color, including the deep darks I want from a picture. I don’t think I have the patience or discipline to become the kind of chalk pastel user who can get true dark values from chalks. Same way I don’t have the spoons left to properly learn watercolor. I love mixing media, though, and I feel like there are tremendous possibilities. Particularly in terms of the speed that is always of primary importance to me.
Of course I’m concerned about the archival properties of the works, particularly when using markers as solvents for oil pastels.
the effects of paste-up, non-acid-free tape and Letratone adhesive on some of my original Star Trek comic artwork.
The data that exists on the preservation of mixed media is not much more than a century old.
Artists have the responsibility to be educated about the archival and lightfastness properties of their materials to the extent that the information exists.
As an artist who always intended to be a commercial artist creating work for reproduction, I’m willing to see some of my work deteriorate.
That the reproduction, or the digital record, is the true version of the work and the actual physical art is ancillary. And of course, when I sell these mixed media works, it’s crucial to be transparent about the fact that they may get Pollacky in a few decades. In the age of the digital record, collectors understand this much more easily. Time is a medium too.
So I am gonna keep experimenting!
With the layers of media and their varying specularities, this portrait is hard to photograph except in raking light. You can see a video of it on my Instagram!
*reading about the properties of Mi-Teintes reminded me of learning about pasta-making at The Pasta Shop in Berkeley when I worked there in 1997. We had a superb employee education program, and during one lecture we learned that the best Italian dry pasta is still extruded from antique bronze dies, which create a microscopic pitting on the surface of the pasta. This sponge-like texture grips sauce far better than pasta extruded from steel dies.
Our friend A. comes to Germany for a certain hacker event every year, eleven years running.
Every year he says he’s not coming to Berlin for New Year’s Eve afterwards, and every year I hear his voice in the hallway at our Hacker Open House on New Year’s Day.
This year he brought his bride to be.
And for the second year running, a box of still warm cinnamon rolls from Zeit für Brot nearby. I like both of these and wish both to become tradition!
I told them that of course we had to paint a wedding portrait, and we could do it in four hours or less.
They promptly agreed and spent the day on January 3 hitting Berlin goth shops for appropriate attire.
(Not everyone chooses the route of D & E, who wore their underwear for their New Year’s wedding portrait!)
I loved having a little time to get to know C., who is an amazing gift to the Bay Area community.
I am so happy for these two and the adventures that lie ahead of them as a family. The portrait was started and finished in three hours, all in, plus an additional hour for talking and planning beforehand. Making it my first Four Hour Portrait of a couple in many years!
The reason I can spontaneously make a work like this is that I am a Patreon-powered artist.
My amazing Patrons on Patreon, a subscription platform for supporting artists, contribute money every month to make it possible for me to make art. As a disabled person, I wouldn’t be able to be a working artist without Patreon. You can help, for as little as a dollar a month!
Click here to join the team who makes my work happen.
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.
Portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux before bifurcation by Suzanne Forbes, Oct 17 2017
I finished my biggest painting in like twelve years!
At 30″ by 80″ (76cm by 204cm), these conjoined canvases form a fine large surface. I could have gone the traditional route, setting my sitters deep within the pictorial space with plenty of air around them. But I wanted something more demanding of my abilities and more interrogative of the viewer, a compressed space with an exploded perspective that tips the viewer into the painting’s world.
Into the dangerous, powerful air breathed by artists Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux.
I set up the perspective of the picture with the idea that Sadie and Jo should take up as much space in it as possible.
At some point in the 90s I read a quote from Roseanne Barr, where she advised young actresses to “take up as much space as you possibly can.”
I think this is a great idea for women, to just occupy space with our presence and authority and strength and certainty, and in Sadie’s case, coiled professional menace.
I had done a painting that utilized an exploded perspective in 2005, the portrait of Khris Brown that is still one of my favorite things I’ve ever done (below right).
I approached the portrait I did of Rah Hell this summer the same way, opening and flattening the pictorial space to force the viewer to acknowledge her carelessly confident drummer’s body (below left). Our Art Nouveau herringbone wood floors work even better for distorting the perspective than the floors in my Berkeley Craftsman did.
To get the exaggerated foreshortening of my model’s forms, I simply alternate between sitting and standing with the easel very close to the model.
Then I make decisions about scale and positioning, as described in the previous post, and position one foot to break the frame, my signature! This is a straightforward way of suggesting that the power of the woman in the portrait can’t be contained by the picture plane. And it also references my career in comics and my love for comic panel design.
You can see here how close I was to the model chair.
During the long third sitting, Sadie and Jo and I talked about art and sex and power.
Sadie and I reminisced about the wonderful Oughts’-era climate for sex-positive kinky art in San Francisco. We talked about the many performances and shows we did for Madison Young’s queer art gallery Femina Potens and the events, like Sadie’s birthday party, at the Center For Sex and Culture. For a while the background of the painting looked like the Leather Pride Flag!
Jo, who is a photographer, told us an amazing story of when she met Nan Goldin.
The whole process of making the painting has been nourishing and strengthening, a collaborative meeting of minds and talents. Sadie and Jo both brought their A game to the work, serving tremendous presence and face and great physical stamina.
After the final sitting I dug in and sorted out the background and details. As much as I liked the Leather Pride colors, I wanted to paint the realistic space of my salon, to ground the figures in a real world and place the viewer in it with them.
I adjusted the perspective of the floor over and over, to give the immanence I wanted to Sadie and Jo.
And I repainted Jo’s hands like a million times, so they would only be substantial artist’s hands, not disorientingly large! I had fun painting the Autumn goddess head-dresses of leaves and rosehips Jo and Sadie wore to Folsom Europe for a performance this year.
I very carefully composed the shadows at Sadie’s feet to guide the eye to the vicious tip of her singletail, which actually is the dark blue and black colors I painted it.
I gave Jo a branch to hold because I was like, “Needs moar witch!” Once the details were done, it was time to separate the two canvases for transport to Ludwig, where they will be shown. I didn’t know what would happen once they were separated; the painting looked finished and resolved with them conjoined but….
With the canvases separated, the blue background wall panel behind Jo (right side) became a dead space!I had to activate it visually with shadows.
Which was good, really, as it made the unused pink velvet boudoir chair more significant. I like to include pink velvet furniture, like my sadly lost dustyrosevelvetmodel’sarmchair, in my paintings. Not only is pink velvet a great visual reference to pussy, it references a powerful moment in my experience as an artist.
In 1993 I went to Philadelphia with my first husband. We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we saw the Cornells, Duchamp’s Étant donnés and the Degas known as both“Interior”and “The Rape”. I can’t begin to describe the impact that group of works had on me, but I can tell you the most important thing I carried away: that women need to make paintings of women.
For decades I have been both inspired by the great male painters and furious that men have made most of the great paintings of women.
My spiritual master as an artist, John Singer Sargent, was not sexually involved with women. He made pictures of them as beings. Numinous, sensual, prickly, elegant, fearless beings. I am hoping in the next few years to really move into my abilities as a painter, and to begin painting women with all the strength I see in them.
It really helps to make big paintings, when you want to depict strength and grace, and I hope this diptych is a step towards that.
This work was made possible by the generosity of my Patrons on Patreon, who contribute monthly support to enable me to make art. I am so, so grateful.
Now we’re at the stage where I make serious refinements to scale and positioning.
You can see I’ve scaled down Jo’s body significantly and adjusted the room and furnishings as well. I made her enormous hands much smaller, although enormous hands are cool! I had made them so large I had to repaint them twice to get them normal size 🙂
One foot of at least one model always breaks the frame in every one of my portraits, and it was best if it was Sadie’s new Fleuvog boot, so I moved Jo’s knee and feet back.
You can see the previous pass of post sitting work above, the color clarification pass where I clean up muddy colors from the first sitting.
And the first sitting, which I painted almost entirely with sponges from the euro store and sponge brushes, in 2.5 hours.
This Sunday I started a big new portrait of my dear friend Sadie Lune and her wonderful partner Jo.
This is my first diptych painting. It is being done on two canvases, which will be hung together or separately at the choice of my curator Thorsten at @ludwig.berlin when we show the works in early October!
Sadie is wearing her beautiful black leather Alexandra corset by @darkgardencorsetry. Jo, a photographer, is wearing a marvelous outfit of a little ruffled white dress and a cage harness of black elastic, which I will paint in at the next sitting. And they will have Autumn headdresses of rosehips!
I have wanted to paint Sadie since I met her at “Nude Aid”, an art benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture, in 2007. She is an artist, performer, sex worker and activist and has marvelous style and presence. The day I met her she was working as both artist and model as she often does. She was wearing a cloche, I remember it so vividly!
As the drawings were all sold that day for a fundraiser, I don’t have a picture of it, alas.
We talked that day about a portrait collaboration, but with our busy, frantic, community-focussed, subsistence working lives as Bay Area artists, we were never able to make it happen in the US.
I did make several drawings of her at events, like the one above of her at her birthday party (also at the CSC) in a latex dress. That party was full of amazing performances, like Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich doing a work from their Twincest collaboration with blood-drinking and fisting.
Sadie invited the audience to use her body as a canvas for “birthday bites” and we all decorated her with bite marks!
Suzanne Forbes drawing at Midori’s “Taken” performance at Femina Potens/ Photo by Zille Defeu Sept 29 2010
We both were constantly donating time and arttofundraisersforthesex-positive and queer artcommunity in the Bay Area in 2006-2010. My policy for five years was, if someone in the community asked me for any art or art labor, I said yes. So we were doing the same events in the scene all the time. Here’s another shot of me drawing at another Art of Restraint. You can see my red flowered head in this one from another Nude Aid. These events were so beautiful and magical, so queer and body-positive and great for community resources. They didn’t leave us as much time for personal projects as we would have liked, though!
Sadie moved to Berlin years before anyone else I knew, and was a great inspiration to me.
She was tremendously helpful in the year before we moved here, providing critical advice about how to prepare for life here and apply for an artist’s visa. (By the way I was granted a two-year artist’s visa of my own on August 28th!)
It has taken us until now to sort out doing a portrait at last, because we both face health challenges and Sadie has a little one, who is now four.
And that’s fine. It takes time to come together for personal-project portraits.
it took a year to schedule and another two years to finish the sittings for my portrait of Midori, for example!
I believe it always happens at exactly the right time.
It is the first big personal project portrait I’ve done in Berlin.
I see it as a companion piece, à pendant, to this big portrait I did of friend/muse/Patron Khris Brown in 2005, when I had just returned to painting after a thirteen-year hiatus. This portrait, one of many I did of Khris, is probably my favorite thing I’ve done to date. And this picture of Rah is right up there.
I painted Rah on a pink ground.
That means before she arrived, I painted the primed canvas an allover bright pink. I used to do this occasionally in college, but had forgotten about it until I saw the work of Natalia Fabia. She is one of the wonderful modern figurative artists I’ve discovered on Instagram. She very often paints on a pink ground.
It adds so much warmth, plus serving as a light mid-tone. Not entirely unlike the many drawings I’ve done on Kraft paper in the last few months! Since I paint alla prima and leave a few areas of bare canvas on every painting I make, you can see the pink peeking through at the edges.
Modern technology makes it so easy to photograph your work, even if you are as bad a photographer as I am.
I’m amazed at how easy it to record and share my new pieces. You can see the details of how I paint easily, the scumbling and bits of impasto. I used quite a bit of gel medium in this work, to get translucent layers that would capture Rah’s luminous youth. Young people’s skin has so much subsurface specularity!