Tag Archives: self portrait drawing

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.

 

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.