Tag Archives: self portrait painting

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.

A Visit to the Vault – Self-Portraits.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 smokingI 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.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989I 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.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 smoking detail faceA 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.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 smoking detailThese 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.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 2 detail braidSo I needed to finish art school in the Midwest, and there was only one: MCAD, a school much more focused on Fine and conceptual art than Illustration.

I took the painting class because it was in St. Paul rather than Minneapolis and I didn’t know how to drive or have a car yet!

I was just barely learning to handle the brush and the physicality of the paint and had done almost no work in color.

They are both on cardboard and are large, 18″ x 24″ (close to A2). I love them, honestly, for how fearless and crude they are!

One of them has another painting on its back, of Kathleen, a superb life model who did a lot of work for MCAD.

Portrait of Kathleen Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Rachel Forbes Fall 1989I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon for supporting my work.

I hope you find this process of documenting my history and development as an artist interesting!