Tag Archives: self portrait painting

More self portraits from the late 80s and early 90s.

Horizontal self portrait acrylic on paper by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes 1989 or 1990The sheer quantity of self-portraits figurative artists do in art school is mind-boggling.

These were either Fall 1989 or Spring 1990, in the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Painting classes of Elizabeth Erickson or Jackie Kielkopf. It’s hard to see but the one above has collaged paper on it, bits of golden light and green shadow.

Self portrait acrylic on paper prob early 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

What’s fascinating about the one above is that it has a secret collage element – the collar of my shirt.

In those years I very often wore pale blue button-down shirts accrued from boyfriends’ fathers’ closets. The collar here is made of the inside of what I am quite sure was my paycheck envelope from the bakery where I worked. It was a hidden acknowledgement of how proud I was to have it together enough to hold a job, attached to the painting as a crisp collar.

I don’t think the two perspectives of my face were meant to represent any kind of duality, though – I just had to do two angles and one came out kinda weird!

Self portrait collage on paper prob early 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesAll these painted/collaged self-portraits on paper from this period seem to be about studying color temperature in light and shadow.

I have vague memories of setting up a strong light source in my very dark first apartment.

Vertical self portrait acrylic on paper by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes 1989 or 1990And this one I have no idea. Same period.

My hair was permed! I loved it honestly. It was great. Self portrait acrylic on paper horizontal prob early 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Self portrait prob Fall 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesProbably also Fall 1989 or winter 1990, a sweet and happy self-portrait on paper.

Self portrait summer 1990 painting apartment by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes 1989 or 1990This one is from summer 1990, in ballpoint.

I drew myself, painting my new apartment completely white. Although I really was that thin at that point, it’s not a good self-portrait – I normally draw my short, thick neck accurately!!

Below, a self portrait with thoughts of various men I was involved with, from that summer. 
Self portrait with thoughts of men summer 1991 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

But now for something completely different!

Wow, 2.5 years of intensive CSA survivor therapy, lots of sexual harassment from comic editors, some feminist art school community, two years of chosen celibacy, a haircut, Thelma and Louise, and one Take Back the Night into my recovery, I was really, really fucking angry!!!

Vertical fantastical self portrait acrylic on paper by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes 1992I actually remember the suit I am wearing in this painting, where I’m hacking at the lake of blood the patriarchy has created.

It was camel-colored, I literally had a beige suit, with those folded-to-the-elbow sleeves that were big in women’s suits in the early 90s. I wore a lot of suits for a while, when I was working as a courtroom artist and trying to finally break into comics. I had those polyester “shells” too, little sexless cami things you wore under your suit jackets.

I was interested in “passing privilege” and what it would feel like to be mistaken for a straight!

Just the ghost of my own wrath Summer 1991 Self portrait Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThese two watercolor drawings are attached together on a piece of illustration board, like a comic.

I believe they were done at the same time, Fall 1991, but the first image shows me a year younger, in 1990, and the second in Corte Madera after seeing “Terminator 2”.

I feel that way all the time July 1991 Self portrait Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

These last two drawings are from my last year of art school, ’91-’92. Self portrait with artists block prob 1992 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

They are about the struggle of artist’s block.Self portrait with dead artists prob 1992 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Look at that mournful baby Suz! Or baby Rach, as I was known at the time.

I don’t struggle a lot with self esteem around my work – I believe I’m an important artist. But we all have hard days at the easel.

Only two of these pieces have 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 pictures.

As a highly-vulnerable person with asthma and auto immune 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.