Got a chance to paint my precious mama on this visit, which was her longest so far.
I did a drawing on each of her previous visits – here and here– and this time I wanted to try a painting even though I have very little strength these days.
Painting takes a lot out of me physically, and with the endless upper respiratory infections I’ve had on top of my Hashimotos this year, I am always at zero physically.
I was willing to go into spoon-debt and suck up the recovery time for this though!
We did the sitting on the last night of her visit, so I could collapse after taking her to the airport the next day.
Here she is sitting in our salon, reading her Kindle.
Books are such a huge part of my mom and me’s life together, from the beginning. We shared books when I was a teen – Ed McBain, Dean Koontz, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, and most of all Dick Francis. In the 80s, we read every single thing every one of those writers had written.
And every Christmas there were stacks of paperbacks under the tree for me, all the Anne McCaffery and Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven and Heinlein. (Problematic as hell, but geek teens took what they could get!)
My mom still reads voraciously and lightning-fast, though I no longer do – I am too tired most of the time.
She discovers new writers, or new to her old writers, and burns through their work. The Kindle is great for her, as it is for another power-reader loved one, my Friend-Muse-Patron Barbara North.
My mom wore this pink striped sweater earlier in the week, and I asked her to wear it again for the sitting, I thought it would be nice against the pink model chair and the purple of her Kindle.
I need to do some finishing work on her sweater and paint in her hands properly, but I’m well satisfied with the likeness and how much I got done in the two-hour sitting. I took some photos of her jewelry and sweater for reference – as you all know, I never take reference photos for faces.
Even if I didn’t have a principle against it, I got enough of that on Star Trek!
I did some work on the backgrounds of two other paintings in progress the next day, even though I was dazed with tiredness – the portraits of Shakrah and Cadbury are now much closer to done. Having a palette with fresh paint on it was too much to resist!
I’m so grateful to my Patrons (including my mama and mom-in-law!) for supporting my work and making paintings like this possible.
Cadbury is a total professional and working with her is terrific.
The painting is coming along very well.
I have a new tool, a USB-powered LED light bar with multiple color temperatures.
It replaces the bulky, expensive full-spectrum OTT-Lites I used in the US, which I donated to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse when we left for Berlin. My new light has LED bulbs and is much lighter and smaller. It’s working great, and was super cheap.
Cadbury’s next Berlin solo show as a performer is at Zum Starken August on August 31.
And this Fall there is gonna be a fantasy-themed Extravagant Shambles, which I’m super excited about!
But we convened for a third sitting last week and it came together, finally.
Here are the results of the first two sittings, above.
Really different right?? It’s not done yet, but Shakrah’s time-traveler beauty is emerging. In the ten months since we last worked on this picture, Shakrah and I have spent time hanging out, and I have come to know her face much better. I was truly feeling like her character and her beauty weren’t captured by the portrait to date, and seriously considering abandoning it. Plus, the pink velvet salon chair she was sitting on was destroyed by a giant hacker during our New Year’s Day epic brunch, so we needed to use a different chair!
But she was up for posing, after my work hiatus caused by the bus accident and after her very busy year, and I decided to see how it went. Because I know her face better, when I returned to the painting, I could see what was salvageable and good about the second iteration, and build on it. And we decided to remove her headpiece, even though she made it and it is beautiful, because its scale overpowered the small painting.
I’m glad I didn’t give up on this one! I posted the latest on my Instagram and one of my Patrons commented,
“Thank you for sharing your frustrations as a professional artist. It gives the rest of us newbies perspective and that we too should keep trying.”
I was glad to be of service, and also surprised. I started earning money as an artist when I was sixteen, so I’ve been working within my own insecurities and frustration my whole life. That’s why it’s WORK!
I guess I assume everybody knows that professional artists struggle constantly with not being as good as they want! Or not being able to resolve a piece! Or not being able to capture someone or something beautiful!
That’s the greatest frustration to me, that I can never capture the beauty of my subjects the way I see it.
I will never be able to show you exactly how beautiful and luminous and unique you are before me, but I will get closer and closer til the day I die, Goddess willing.
And I am able to do this because of the help of myPatrons on Patreon who provide the monthly sponsorship that allows me to tell women’s stories and grow as an artist!
I took an eight-day Make-Cation, where all I did was bricolage and assemblage.
It was so relaxing and fun! So I was strong and ready to dive in the second sitting with Daria.
To the left you can see the portrait about halfway through our second sitting, after an hour or so.
It is easier painting someone you know well, someone you have spent hundreds of hours with. It doesn’t actually feel easier, but better results happen without being aware of how.
So this challenging foreshortened facial view, with Daria’s head bent over her ipad, and part of her face obscured by her hanging hair, was very doable.
I expect we will finish in one more sitting!
You can see the first sitting here and Daria’s website and Instagram here. Her witchy boots are starting to emerge, below! I still need to paint in her jewelry and tattoos.
As always, this portrait is painted alla prima (without any preliminary drawing or underpainting), in straight-from-the-tube acrylic mixed only on the canvas. I am continuing to tone my canvas with acrylic paint to an even 50% grey before painting and absolutely loving the results as it increases my speed even more. The large painting seen below is about five hours total work.
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.