Category Archives: New York in the 80s

Another perfect Berlin day.

The graceful violinist by Suzanne Forbes March 17 2017On Friday I was feeling a little shaky. So I went rambling around Friedrichshain in the just-a-bit-raw weather with Daria, and felt immeasurably better.

pink musician March 17 2017 Suzanne ForbesOn the train I was working on the drawing of the violinist I started last week, (when we went to Dussman Cafe, pics soon), and then:

this guy with a pink accordozylophone thing got on!

Ninja drawing by Daria Rhein photo by Daria Rhein

Ninja drawing by Daria Rhein, photo by Daria Rhein

As I drew the guy I could hear Daria’s voice in my head saying “Don’t overwork it!”, just as I hear the voices of my teachers and mentors advising me at so many moments.

To be guided by the wisdom of artist friends is the best thing in the world.

We got china markers when we went to Modulor, because I hadn’t one for decades; here’s Daria’s first china marker drawing! I used a mix of greyscale marker and china marker on the musician drawings.

There is nothing, absolutely, nothing, like living and working around true peers for an artist.

Yesterday we went first to look at a possible flat for her and the adorable auburn-haired English lad. It was a really gorgeous perfectly reno’d altbau, in the absurdly desirable neighborhood around Boxy, about 700 sq. ft., rent about $750. Yes, you should still move to Berlin. Changes in the law meant to control rising rents appear to have worked, and you can still get an incredible place for what seems like nothing.

Then we went to Daria‘s tattoo studio Tremuschi Ink!

It is the coolest place ever in the world, absolutely not kidding.

Photo: Steffen Diemer, Model: Lexy Hell, Corset: Redcat 7. Hairpiece: icing

Photo: Steffen Diemer, Model: Lexy Hell, Corset: Redcat 7.

It is open in the front half to the incredibly charming handmade burlesque fashion design shop Redcat7, where a pink-haired gal manned the counter. One of the tattoo artists was working on sketches for a throw-up style tat; in the back Sammy, the designer and owner of Redcat7, was getting ready to be tattooed by Vivien.

They have benches and a tattoo bed and rests of every kind, to tattoo any part of you comfortably, and a big lightbox for composing designs, and a screened private area.

The walls are covered with framed art and there is a tag wall too.

After we rifled through all the pretties at Redcat, we walked to Aunt Benny.

Coexist Berlin Instagram shotIt was a long walk, through all the charms of Friedrichshain, past the coolest shops and dive bars and eis cafes and music shops and print shops where people were making beautiful real screen prints like people do in Berlin.

We had to go in to Coexist Berlin, a totally amazing punk pastelgoth alternative fashion shop for local and European designers.

I told the lovely pastel-haired designer of Indyanna who was working that it was like a perfect flashback to Betsey Johnson’s first store in Soho, Manic Panic and Trash & Vaudeville in the 80s.

Patches at Coexist BerlinIndyanna designs included a biker jacket lined with blue leopard and appliqued with blue glitter flames I badly coveted.

Ragged Priest dress

Ragged Priest dress

I bought an insane Tyvek paper jumpsuit in Patricia Field in 1980 and it was just the kind of thing Coexist would sell. Daria wanted this mesh flame dress by The Ragged Priest for her next tattoo convention– comfy but rad!

We arrived at Aunt Benny and met the lovely English girl Daria painted the last time she was there. I had mint lemonade since it was St. Patrick’s Day and we shared the really, really, really quite extremely good Carrot Ginger cake.

Everything looked gorgeously fresh and delicious. We sat in a secret alcove in the secret corner room that you get to by going to the WCs. We discussed getting a visa so I could go to visit Moscow with Daria later this year and see the magnificence of her home town.

Berlin, du bist so wunderbar!

An Ode to Creative Work by Behance from Behance on Vimeo.

Why my rapist gotta google me?

Spectral phantasmagoria of my peripheral vision 1981: journal drawing, winter 1981

Spectral phantasmagori of my peripheral vision: journal drawing, winter 1981

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “my rapist”.

My "Angry Unicorn" tag, journal drawing winter 1981

My “Angry Unicorn” tag, journal drawing winter 1981

It attaches so much ownership and blame to what is actually an event that happened TO me, without my consent. It’s so much clearer to say “the man who raped me”.

Except I was groomed as a child to become a perfect assault victim, and my teenage alcoholism created a perfect storm of vulnerability, and so multiple men raped me.

Which means it’s not clear at all, to say “The man who raped me.” I can’t even say, “The man who raped me when I was fourteen”, and have it be clear.

So, one of the men who raped me when I was fourteen. The first one. Left a comment on my blog. Yesterday.

With a beloved friend and student, Charlottenburg Fall 2016

With a beloved friend and student, Charlottenburg Fall 2016

Rusty iron in my mouth, cupping my coffee cup for warmth, safe in Berlin, safe and loved, so loved, so strong, and still it sent an electric charge of nauseous danger through me.

He reaches out every few years, contacts me on social media, says he’s glad I’m doing well. That I wasn’t doing so well the last time he saw me. But never, “I’m so sorry”. Just say it. Trust me, it won’t solve the problem. You will still carry guilt and grief and horror at your actions.

But there is a tiny scrap of peace in knowing you have done due diligence at last.

I know how it is not to be able to say it. It took me thirty years to say it in one instance, to clearly and openly admit my guilt at the harm I did. And they say making amends lets you forgive yourself, but maybe sometimes it only lets you open your heart to the depth of the wrong you did or the loss you endure. And you just have to live with the depth of that wrong, just breathe it in and say I am so sorry to the universe, to the family, to the spirit of that blue-eyed boy or girl.

It makes me furious that he always mentions how I wasn’t doing so well the last time he saw me.

Opening my 80s and 90s journals box to write this piece, 2017.

Opening my 80s and 90s journals box to write this piece, Berlin 2017.

Well sure, I was a teenage alcoholic and drug addict whose boyfriend had just tried to kill himself in front of her and been locked up at Bellevue. I am an addict, a person with multiple disabling diseases of the mind and body, and me being that doesn’t make me a lesser person, or excuse the harm you did.

My alcoholism did not make me complicit in the violations that occurred to me.

Yes, no thanks to you I’ve been clean and sober for 28 years! No thanks to you I’ve sought treatment for my depression and OCD and DSPS and PTSD and spent 28 years trying to become a better person!

I dated my rapist.

Journals from the 80s and early 90s.

Journals from the 80s and early 90s.

That is, I continued to see, and had sex once or twice with, the first man who raped me when I was fourteen. For several months, until on an early Summer day, I replaced him with a gentle lover.

I was so incredibly happy that winter, when I first met Evan. The happiest I had ever been.

On January 8, 1981, my fourteenth birthday, I woke up with a clear decision in my mind.

I would try one more thing before I killed myself: becoming a drug addict.

It seemed totally reasonable; I could not endure my feelings and the pain I was in, but drugs offered a way to manage those feelings until I had more resources.

I was somehow sure that if I made it to adulthood, got away from my father, I would be able to get tools to be happy.

With GIlly and other cherished friends, Abington Square Fall 1981

With GIlly and other cherished friends, Abington Square Fall 1981

So I walked into Tony’s coffeeshop next to Stuyvesant High School, and asked where the kids with the drugs were. I found Gilly, and she took me to my people.

I had Found the Others, at only fourteen. Living in the Bay Area, I met a lot of people who hadn’t found their people til college, or til they moved to San Francisco. I was incredibly lucky, and it surely saved my life. My people were the last group of Stuyvesant Freaks, who hung out in the east half of Stuyvesant Park.

I immediately began taking all the chemicals of every kind I could find, as well as drinking. But my people didn’t drink much; they were Deadheads, and psychonauts, and hippies. So my first serious forays into drug use involved a lot of psychedelics and pot. I was stoned all the time. I smoked pot all day, and I took speed and acid with it.

My new best friend Jenny, who like all my new friends was a junior or senior, was so disappointed that I was still a virgin.

She had lost her virginity at 14, and wanted to be able to talk girl talk about sex with me. Falling in love with her, day by day, it became even more urgent to me to get rid of my hymen. I loved Jenny, I wanted to be lovers with her, but she was straight, and I couldn’t even tell her.

I had been seriously wanting to take a lover for almost a year, since before when I saw “Little Darlings” the previous summer. Boys fascinated me, mesmerized me, roused a terrible angry hunger in me, and as the Spring came on it intensified.  In early March the warmer nights began and our tribe started its routine of going to Central Park after dark.

We roamed the park in a mob, only afraid of the Guardian Angels.

The park, shunned at night by everyone but criminals in 1981, was our huge playground. One night, high on acid and jug wine, I broke my ankle falling from the Frisbee Hill rocks. My friend Billy carried me to the huge Upper West Side apartment of one of the sweetest and kindest of the Music and Art kids, an adjunct tribe to our Stuyvesant Freaks.

In the morning I woke up and realized my ankle was broken; my mom took me to the hospital where it was reassembled with a pin.

And I had a cast and crutches. Plus a vague sense that smoking pot was turning weird for me.

Inside journal cover, Winter 1981.

Inside journal cover, Winter 1981.

But I was still deliriously happy, because my friends were amazing and after I had briefly run away, my mom was taking me away from my father, to a place of our own. She had found a place, on leafy Abington Square in the West Village.

A week later, now pretty mobile, I was back at the Music and Art guy’s place for a party. I had promised Billy I wouldn’t drink this time, so my friend John suggested a nice bowl. I smoked with him in one of the rooms of tie-dyed laughing singing teenagers, the huge flat’s endless rooms filled with our people, our beautiful brilliant gifted people. (You never knew where the parents were.)

But the high went wrong, it filled me with terrible paranoia, and suddenly I felt wildly unsafe and terrified.

So John let me drink a bit of wine, to take the edge off. My friends were three and four years older than me, there was no-one my age around, and they were experienced users. I started drinking. Billy, a gentle drug-dealer who genuinely cared about me, yelled at me. I went into the bedroom of the host guy (it grieves me I no longer remember his name, maybe David or something) where I had spent the previous Saturday night struggling to get up and dance while Billy held me and explained that my ankle was hurt. It was crowded with our people, and small; the kids always got the maid’s rooms in these flats.

I was sitting on the floor, looking across at a boy I knew playing guitar.

His name was Teo, and he would become my first boyfriend. He was wearing a white embroidered cambric shirt from India, open at the chest, and he was playing “Blackbird”; his long dark curls tumbled over his shoulders. I was drinking whatever bottle was passed to me. I was so happy and so full of love for the world I’d stumbled into. I blacked out.

I came out of the blackout kissing someone. I pushed him away to find out who it was.

Age 14 or 15, on Abington Square

Age 14 or 15, on Abington Square

It was Evan, a senior who I had bought acid from once or twice. Blue Dolphins, maybe. He was a graffiti writer, and tall and slim and beautiful, with brown eyes and long golden-brown hair in a ponytail.

I found him quite acceptable as a kissing partner; he was on my mental list of guys I found hot, “candidates”. He was eighteen, a little old, but that was ok. We were sitting in the window, and it was dark; the room was empty and silent. A lot of time had passed, obviously.

I kissed him some more, and we decided to go to my place. In the lobby we were kissing, me on my crutches, him holding me up I suppose, and he pulled away and said, “Look what you’ve done to me, you goddam little nymphomaniac!”.

I had a vague idea he was a vegetarian or Buddhist or something, and I thought possibly he had committed to celibacy for some spiritual reason.

So I thought perhaps what he meant was that i was seducing him into unwanted carnal feelings. I did not fucking care. It was April, it was Spring, young people had boiling sap for blood and missing out on desire was obvious foolishness.

We caught a cab the long way down the West Side to Chelsea and walked through the dark apartment, past my father’s bedroom and through the living room where my brother slept. We went into my tiny bedroom and got on my single bed, and started making out again. At some point there were less clothes, and I was backed up against the wall at the head of the bed. My head was angled against the wall, I was propped up on my pillow, and suddenly his naked hips and his erect dick were in my face.

He shoved his cock in my mouth, and I bit him. Pretty hard, I think.

I was offended as hell. I was raised by hippies, and the 1950s idea that women should provide oral or manual release service to men to avoid having further intimacy was tacky as hell to me. I wasn’t there to get him off; I was there because I liked boys and I wanted to do sex with boys. He pulled away yelping in pain, rocked back on his heels, and said, “Alright, I’m gonna fuck you then, you bitch.”

I looked him in the eye in my dim bedroom, and I said, “See if I care”. And he pulled me down onto the bed and did it.

It hurt quite a lot. I blacked out again at some point, and of course I was very intoxicated, so luckily I missed some of it.

All my life ever since I have drawn strength from that moment, the moment when my brave-hearted fourteen-year-old self met ugliness with brio and courage. I have always been proud that I stood up to him in a spirit of sarcasm and New Yorker sass.

And I have always grieved that I didn’t wait just two months longer, til the sunny summer day when Teo and I made love in my new West Village bedroom together. But I might not have had the courage to boldly seduce Teo – which I certainly did- if I hadn’t had the confidence of being devirginized. And he was a bit of a geek, he would never have made a pass. So it goes.

In the morning Evan was odd and awkward; only now do I realize he might have been a bit of an Aspie. He demonstrated his most impressive physical skill, the lighting of a match from a book with his toes. Probably to light my cigarette; I smoked Marlboro 100s in the gold pack back then.

He got dressed and picked up my white Princess phone and wrote down the number written on the metal place. “That’s not my number”, I said. It was the number of a very bad boy I had loved in 8th grade.

He asked me for my actual number and I gave it to him. I walked him out, past my brother and my father, and locked the door. There was blood on my sheets, not too much, and I was still pretty drunk.

I did not want to discuss the matter with my father, though he gave me an inquiring leer.

The first time a boy had spent the night with me was on March 16. That boy, Gerardo, had not had the resolve or perhaps the ability to wait, and it had ended in his messy ejaculation, though I would certainly have had sex with him. After I walked him out my father had wanted to know if I was finally having sex, and did i need birth control; I had been able to evade him and say no, which at least was a good thing.

I could not wait to get to school and tell Jenny. I had beaten her by a couple months; she was almost fifteen when she lost it.

When my mom drove me to school I told her I needed birth control, and she made an appointment for me with Dr. Wolff on the Upper East Side. The camaraderie with Jenny was glorious; we sat on 15th st. in the Spring sun giggling together.

Evan sorta stuck around for the next couple weeks, in a weird,  embarrassing and embarrassed way. He would come out of school and sit with me at lunch ( I had long since stopped actually going into the school building, and went straight to the park with my friends each day.) He would sit near me but not really pay attention to me, and Billy would kiss me hello but Evan never did.

I felt like he was ashamed of me, which made me furious. Then he invited me to dinner.

Spring 1981 journal back cover Rachel Ketchum - EditedI was still on crutches, so we took a taxi. I wrote about the evening in my journal (seen below) for my beloved English professor Roger Baronat, who adored my writing and treated it with great respect while never cutting me slack for skipping class, finals and homework.

I have transcribed it here. You can see I was not in any way a normal fourteen-year-old. And also that Norman Mailer and Hunter Thompson were bad, run-on sentence influences on my early writing style.

Well. Evan said he wanted to cook dinner for me, so after school (after his– eighth – school) ( I didn’t go) it was a beautiful sunny day and we stayed, in the park, for a bit – so many people! – mmm – then found a cab (takes a while – going downtown? – they yell over their yellow doors – ) and directed it to Brooklyn. Wide-eyed, enchanted and happy I looked over the bridge – ships! ships! Look, look, see the masts? see the dock? See the sailboats? Oh! Look! This is Brooklyn? How come? Suburbs? My god, you live in the suburbs?

‘Don’t look now’ (where?) ‘but my dad’s right behind us’, said Evan, and I turned with my chin on his shoulder to peer out the back window of the checkercab. Green car. Hee. hee. heeheeheehee…’Don’t wave.’ ‘No?’…Looks like my dad…– beard-brained, ponderous, charming and soulless — trees and crowded houses, quiet streets, wonderful Victorian turrets and formica ranches – driveways and cars and bikes — oh Evan, the air smells good! – the country!! Taxi-cab driver don’t know where he’s going so we walked a sleepy lawny block, down a path — a patio, no less, fancy me going in through a screen door after fourteen years of bolts and locks? Kitchen a tribute to TV commercials and floor wax America over, but Evan’s room is just like every teenage dope fiends’ and cluttered, postered and unmade. Jimi Hendrix Experience poster on the ceiling above his bed – now I couldn’t cope with black medusa orpheus snakes above my head every night, but that’s me. I won’t go near a lay-up either.

Anyhow – we went and sat outside, sun going down, by the garden, huddled close for warmth, and then went back inside so Evan could cook. Well I did the best I could to help, and now and then his dad harassed us, and his mom came home, as sweet and soft-smiling as you could possibly imagine, soft brown pageboy hair falling over her cheeks, tall and still graceful though in a weary way; laid her head on Evan’s shoulder, for a moment aglow with creator’s awe at this tall lovely creature who was yes, her son and was now cooking dinner —

She was a little bit drunk from champagne at her office, (to celebrate an account or somewhat) and as she fixed her scotch-and-water and sat back she told us how they’d had a beastie, a chameleon, named Camile, at the party. I never quite understood why but it was enough that it had been there, crawling among the vino-damp cocktail napkins on the desks pressed into bar service, and that she’d taken pleasure in its glowy, gentle eyes and soft tummy, iridescent tail and little feet.

May 8, 1981 journal page

May 8, 1981 journal page

Since the journal was for Mr. Baronat, who knew that I was a drug user and graffiti criminal but had perfectly good boundaries about sexuality with his students, I did not mention the sex.

After dinner we went into Evan’s bedroom and he had sex with me again. I told him I had an appointment soon to get birth control, but he didn’t care one way or the other. I looked up at the Jimi Hendrix poster as he pushed into me. “Lie there and think about pizza”, Jenny said, about sex that wasn’t fun.

It hurt again, and I rocked my hips, trying to get comfortable; he hissed, “Up and down, not side to side!” I was mortified; not a good start to my career as a femme fatale. Later his dad drove me home to Manhattan. For one night it seemed like maybe he was going to be my boyfriend. But things went back to the weird not-quite-hanging out at school.

And my mom and I moved in together, to our own place, where I had a nice bedroom and a double bed and was safe from my father.

Evan came over one last time after I had my cast off and my diaphragm (Dr. Wolff, who had delivered me, said I was too young for the pill, too young for tubal ligation and he was terrified of IUDs).

We had sex in my grown-up bed, actually naked, and he actually went down on me and acted like a lover. But it was not thrilling.

There was no intimacy, it was just awkward, and I was really pissed about every single way he was an asshole.

I knew he wasn’t what I wanted, and a week later I was with Teo. And with a half dozen other boys and men by October.

A quote from Gilly, written in my Fall 1981 journal.

A quote from Gilly, written in my Fall 1981 journal.

Me age 15, with Paul, winter 1982

Me age 15, with Paul, winter 1982

Evan stopped by six months later, after my live-in boyfriend Paul had slashed his throat with a razor and been hauled off, after I’d embarked on a course of self-prescribed compassionate leave involving bottles and bottles of Valium obtained with forged prescriptions. He yelled at me about not going to school, about my drug use, and gave me a beautiful airbrushed piece of art with my name graffiti-style.

He seemed to be trying to tell me he was sorry without ever saying the words, in the 80s.

In the later half of the 80s I learned he was dating a very vulnerable and fragile sixteen-year-old friend of mine, doing Dead tour selling t-shirts with her. Figures, I said to myself. In 2008 or so he tracked me down on Facebook. Said he was glad I was doing ok, since I wasn’t in such good shape the last time he saw me. In a sober spirit of full accountability for my own sexual predation, my decades of rage at men and the time I might have had sex with a boy below the New York age of consent at 20, I did not judge him. But I could be pissed that that was the tack he’d choose to take, and I blocked his ass.

And then yesterday, checking my comment queue for the Planned Parenthood donation raffle, I saw his comment.

“Hi Rachael, your blog is incredible, and very powerful. Glad to see you are doing well.

Evan”

He left it on this post! About making amends! Where i state quite clearly that:

“The people I knew and who knew me, well, that’s up to them, and they haven’t made much progress to date.”

Jesus! Just say you’re sorry! The statute of limitations has expired!

I did horrible things in the 80s. I cheated like crazy on my sweetest boyfriends. I hit them. I froze them out emotionally when they just wanted to love me. I seduced boy virgins endlessly, thirteen in all, avenging my trauma by giving them the consent and attention and gentleness and passion I didn’t get, a night they would never forget. And then breaking up with them.

In the 80s, if you wanted to be a sexual adventurer, you paid a high price. The ratio of sexual trauma to adventure was very high, a friend my age once told one of our young women friends. Dark magic was all we had. Our desire was dangerous as hell to us.

We swung the cannons of our young bodies, firing broadsides. I suffered great harm, and I did terrible harm. Let there be healing for all who can heal.

Me and Daria at KaDeWe, November 2016

Me and Daria at KaDeWe, November 2016. She said today, 

“As for the guy, take it as they neither can live free from what they’ve done. They are evil in this story although they caused this evil not just to you but to themselves, if it’s still haunting them.”

 

Bat Monster Woman!!

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017It’s a gray day in Berlin but this gold and bronze Bat Monster Woman I just finished is glowing.

She is inspired by my beloved Archie McPhee Monster Women rubber toys, a gift from my oldest friend Victoria.

I used what may be my last scrap of silver velvet, some old-gold colored wired organza ribbon that I bought with a coupon at Jo-Ann for my first wedding, and gold tulle.

Plus my favorite Black Pearl metallic thread from Rico Design, which is the only good metallic embroidery thread available in the world.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017And two citrine Swarovski crystals for her eyes, some brass rhinestuds, a scrap of teeeny gold dollmaking braid trim, and plain dark green cotton thread, doubled, carefully stitched around the border of the design.

Using a fine dark thread to go around the edges of important shapes really helps me control and refine the line, I highly recommend it.

It’s especially great where a regular back-stitched embroidered line butts up against a satin stitch area. The tiny needle you can use for a single strand of floss or regular thread means you can stitch into the satin stitch without disturbing or spreading it, yet stabilize it at the same time.

I also added brass stud stars, both to reference Wonder Woman iconography and because I love studs.

When I was a child, about seven to nine, I had a babysitter I adored. Her name was Melissa, and although she was a hardcore drug addict and a total flake, she was so mellow and gentle with me. Some friends of her and her sister Nadine had a clothing store on 8th Avenue between 20th and 21st, a funky hippie store where everybody hung out. I don’t know if they ever sold anything but drugs.

Sitting on the floor in there under racks of fringed and embroidered and patched rocker clothes impacted my aesthetic so much.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017There was a barrel of studs for your jeans or jean jackets, all different shapes and designs, stars and moons and pyramids and other shapes I can’t quite summon. Like, a barrel- they must have bought them by the kilo at some surplus place. I would run my hands through them, gently so the points wouldn’t poke me.

I felt completely safe there. Years later the friends became famous Deadhead t-shirt silkscreeners, and I went to a party at their loft on 14th st. I came home drunk at dawn and gleefully told my mom about their huge ball python Clyde who had cuddled me. They were such nice people, and such incredible artists.

Everything you do or see or feel goes in the hopper for creative work. 

Everything I remember, here in this safe-at-last place, surfaces and turns and shines under the light. I don’t know where the synthesis will take me. Or what the meeting point will be between painting and drawing, the skills I trained a decade for and made a career in, and the making things I’ve always loved.

Unterweg Drawings Nr. 3 – January!

3am on the U7 by Suzanne Forbes Jan 30 2017This is one of those Berlin moments that kind of confused me.

It was a Saturday late fairly late, and this guy was eating a sandwich in a white Tyvek jumpsuit. Was he a homeless guy, with his possessions in his cart? His cart also contained folders of papers and cleaning products, maybe he works in the subway system?

I couldn’t tell. I snuck behind the elevator shaft and drew him through its glass walls. Then I finished it a month or two later with the new greyscale markers one of my beloved Friend-Muse-Patrons gave me for my 50th birthday!80s classics come around again by Suzanne Forbes Jan 25 2017

I saw this woman last week on the U-Bahn. Everything about her took me back to the 80s.

It was an older train, she was in the classic straphanger bookworm brace position, she was reading an 80s thriller and wearing the same kind of puffer coat my mom wore in the 80s. Puffer coats came back in style a couple years ago, and I am glad because they are so fun to draw.

December Unterwegs here.

November Unterwegs here.

Another watercolor portrait!

We’ve had a few undesirably hot days here in Berlin, and today was the hottest.

I bought a portable A/C from a Brit who was leaving town last year, because we don’t do well with heat. I set up the A/C in the library and painted the hubbin while he did whatever he does on Reddit.Dan McArdle by Suzanne Forbes Aug 28 2016 Berlin

This watercolor thing is getting to be FUN. Probably if I’m gonna keep doing it I should buy a better watercolor block than this one from the stationary store around the corner, and maybe some real watercolors. Maybe even a new Windsor & Newton Series 7 Sable, nobly though the one I bought when I was at Parsons thirty years ago has served.

Maybe I should actually take a class and learn HOW one does watercolors.

Dan McArdle by Suzanne Forbes Aug 28 2016 Berlin - close upI had one class where we had one watercolor assignment, in school. Unfortunately I didn’t think painting in colors was worth my time, then; it was just an useless tangent for a person who was going to be a comic book penciller and have a colorist to take care of such things.

So I did a sloppy job of the assignment, and showed up late and drunk to class, with my very drunk boyfriend Richie tagging along.

My teacher was furious. I felt at the time that he was furious about the banal quality of the green grass I’d painted. It seemed like he was just really disgusted that I’d painted such bad grass. But I know better now. I still think the grass really bothered him, but I bet it bothered him more that I had wasted a priceless opportunity to work and learn.

I forgive you for yelling at me, Parsons teacher whose name I’ve forgotten. I forgive you for being a medium I didn’t know how to use, watercolors. I forgive you for being drunk and sloppy when you were 20 years old, Suz.

Sometimes both life and art are long.

Fast sketching Tiepolo-style!

aklamio 5 year anniversary party berlin by Suzanne Forbes June 17 2016Here’s a sketch from the five-year anniversary party of the wonderful company my husband works for.

sketch with midtone Suzanne Forbes July 17 2016This is how I did it- first pencil sketch for structure and gesture, then a 50% grey pen to spot in midtones, then fine line outline, then brush pen strokes for the heavy line weight on the undersides of things and solid blacks.detail pg 27 Advertising Layout Techniques by Harry Borgman 1983

This approach is a callback to the old-school commercial illustrators’ pen and marker techniques I learned from books in the 80s.  Scan to the right: detail of pg. 27 from “Advertising Layout Techniques” by Harry Borgman, pub. 1983.

I loved this style of rendering because it was about drawing– it was didactic as hell, a formatted iconography for storytelling through pictures. The audience had been taught to read the visual language of illustration and comics over decades. They had an encoded understanding of what kind of mark-making represented what textile, what line weight meant highlights.

I have a whole collection of books in my art library that offer instruction in now-obsolete techniques like Prismacolor and Chartpak markers and beloved, vanished Zip-A-Tone. The earliest layers of my library reveal just how little I ever intended to be a fine artist- I just wanted to be a working stiff journeyman illustrator.

Detail pg 18 from New York The Big City by Will Eisner 1986

Detail pg 18 from New York The Big City by Will Eisner 1986

Comps Storyboards and Animatics by james Fogle and Mary E Forsell 1989

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grey-scale rendering methods of the great 20th Century advertising artists were already disappearing from the curriculum of art schools in 1989, when I left New York. They stayed alive in comics for a few years longer, because of the specific exigencies of comic printing before direct digital and the Black-and-White Boom.

By the time I was sober and enrolled in the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, in 1990, the career emphasis had shifted to digital graphic production. There were computer labs and programs like Illustrator and Photoshop and the illustration program at MCAD was skeletal. Teaching drawing for commercial art was over.

Tiepolo_angelLucky for me, I was able to become a painter. I pivoted to FIne Art in the MCAD curriculum just to get enough teaching in things I cared about, but there were many hidden benefits to leaving the commercial illustration track, and I had some fine teachers.

Tiepolo Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra

Tiepolo Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra

One of my painting teachers at MCAD told me my preparatory sketch for a painting reminded him of Tiepolo‘s ink wash drawings. He showed me what he meant and I was amazed at how modern an eighteenth-century drawing could look.

Of course, we don’t know how Tiepolo produced these works- he might have done the pencil sketch and line-work first, then added the midtone wash. Either way, the grey-scale (or sepia-scale!) is a thing of beauty.

tiepolo_satyr

 

I hope to do some ink-wash drawings utilising grey scale values later this summer, as well as some chalk drawings on grey paper. I’ve been thinking about how Sargent said if you get the midtones right, everything else falls into place. I’ve never been a midtone person; I’ve always focused on line quality and hard black and white values. But people change 🙂

 

 

Dear blonde girl in the white pants: imaginary amends letters from the men who sexually assaulted and harassed me as a child.

This morning, I suddenly realized I deserved amends from the men and boys who sexually assaulted me.

photo John Garetti 1977

Age 10, photo by John Garetti, 1977

I decided that if I wanted them to make amends to me, I was going to have to take care of it myself.

So I wrote some letters from some of the strangers who violated me during my childhood.

The people I knew and who knew me, well, that’s up to them, and they haven’t made much progress to date.

Dear blonde girl in the white pants near the Waverly Theater in 1980:

Age 13, photo by J Nebraska Gifford

Age 13, photo by J Nebraska Gifford

I’m sorry I called that phone booth you were walking by. When you picked it up I said “I want to rip those tight white pants off you and fuck you” and you hung up and looked frantically around you. You were young, maybe fourteen or fifteen. Young enough to fall for the “prank” of someone calling a phone booth from another one across the street. Actually, maybe you were only thirteen. Tight pants were in fashion, and I made a lot of those phone calls. I’m so sorry for how unsafe and violated I made you feel in that moment, and in so many moments afterwards.

Dear ten-year-old girl in the Elgin Theater in 1977:

When I silently slid into the seat next to you, you were so engrossed in the movie you didn’t notice a thing. What were you doing alone in the theater watching “The 400 Blows” anyway? You were so pretty, with your blonde hair. I carefully edged my hand towards your lap and grabbed your crotch. You jumped up and screamed at me, but there was no-one in the theater to hear. You ran out into the lobby, shouting. “Fucking pervert son-of-a-bitch!” you called me. I watched you run off up 8th Avenue. I wish I had stayed in that program they put me in back in ’72, for people like me.

Dear blonde hippie chick in the see-through skirt in front of the deli at Abington Square in 1982:

Age 15, on Abington Square

Age 15, on Abington Square, 1982

When me and my friends passed you and your little girlfriend at 2 a.m.- she was even younger than you I think, maybe only fourteen- the streetlight shone right through your skirt. I ran the two steps back and grabbed your crotch, hard. Then I ran back after my friends. You came after me, screaming and shouting. You called me a fucking bastard motherfucking son-of-a-bitch. Your friend looked so afraid.

Then you ran into the deli and I heard you telling them to call the police. Lucky for Past Me, they ignored you. Present Me wishes they had at least acknowledged you. I thought of you over and over that night, as we rambled around the Village. What was I thinking? I had a sister your age. I don’t know why I thought what you were wearing gave me the right to assault you. I often wonder, when I see a girl in a see-through skirt like that in some Coachella video, if someone will hurt her, too. I wonder if you remember that night in the Village.

Dear little girl in the kitchen at Thea’s New Year’s Eve party near Westbeth in the ’70s:

We were alone in the kitchen when the Auld Lang Syne music started to play in the living room. You were looking in the cookie jar. I said hello to you, and you responded not very politely. I could hear shouting from the next room- Thea and Bill, your father, had been dealing a little in those days, and everyone was drinking hard as well. “Give me a New Year’s kiss”, I said, and bent down and grabbed your face. I forced my tongue in your mouth and you pulled away. I was fifty-two, and I just walked into the living room and got another glass of wine. Three years later, during an acid trip in New Mexico, your dead-eyed little face swam up in my memories and I realized what I’d done. I am so, so sorry. You were just a little girl.

Dear Rachel (I think your last name was Ketchum?):

When Cliff and Emerick said they knew this girl who lived in Chelsea who had her father’s apartment all to herself on the weekends, I was so down. Since they started at Stuy in September I didn’t see them as much, and I missed them. I was fifteen that Fall, and I wanted to get laid so bad. I knew a guy in Corona who had Quaaludes, and I went and bought five. Emerick said he had weed and Cliff said he had some speed. When we got to your place on Friday night I couldn’t believe you were only thirteen. You looked so much older, in your purple jumpsuit.

You had bought champagne for the party. They just sold it to you, no questions asked. I got wasted really fast, with the hash we were smoking, the booze and everything. I remember we were out in the neighborhood, and we were doing some tagging. You had spraypaint and markers. We were in the Cuban-Chinese restaurant, and you said you had a headache, you wanted to go home to get some aspirin. “Here, take this”, Cliff said, and he dropped a Quaalude in your water glass.

I got stopped by the police in Washington Square, trying to buy some acid, and you talked the cop out of busting us. You told him that I was your cousin from Queens and this was my first time in the city, and you were just trying to give me a classic New York experience. I couldn’t believe the cop fell for it. He kept looking down your front.

We bought tickets for the midnight show of Rocky Horror at the 8th st. Playhouse- you had been, and Cliff, but not me and Emerick. We had an hour to kill so we went to smoke a bowl in a vestibule across the street. Cliff took his dick out, and then Emerick did too, and so I did too. We all started grabbing your hands and trying to make you jerk us off. You were so wasted, you could barely fight us. You said it was time to go if we wanted to get good seats.

Later that night we were at your place. You had made some kind of food, like chicken salad, and we started to make brownies with some of your father’s weed, but then we were too wasted. Cliff put on The Who- Who’s Next, Baba O’Riley. He did the thing with the record player where the song plays over and over. You said you were tired and went into your bedroom. We all got on the bed with you and started groping you. I could hear the music from the next room-

“Don’t cry Don’t raise your eye
It’s only teenage wasteland-”

and you were telling us to stop touching you. Like that was gonna happen. Obviously Cliff and Emerick expected you were going to have sex with us, but you seemed really surprised. You grabbed your white Princess phone and called someone, told him you were in trouble, you were being attacked. I could hear him through the handset. “What do you want me to do about it?” he said; he sounded about our age.

Cliff tore your jumpsuit trying to get it off you. You were fighting now, as the song started again, and you were weirdly strong. I remembered Cliff saying you were some kind of exercise nut. None of us went to gym or anything, and we were really high. You kicked and struggled and bit us. Cliff was so high he started to pass out. Emerick was still trying to get your clothes off, but he was a pretty small guy. Somehow Cliff slid onto the floor and you bundled Emerick after him and shoved them both out the door and told me to get out. You locked the door and we all passed out.

In the morning the song was still playing. The apartment was so trashed. You made us breakfast, I don’t know why, and then you made us leave. We were all still really high. I hung around the lobby of your building, and when you came downstairs a little later I shot at you with my bb gun as you rushed towards the door. You looked really freaked out. You didn’t notice me, but I followed you as you walked back to the Village. I saw you go into the 99 Cents store on 8th st., and come out with a little package. I saw you open the package of razor blades in a vestibule in Soho and cut your wrist. You stayed there for hours, bleeding, even though it turned really cold. i had to go home because my mom was expecting me for Sunday dinner.

I lost touch with those guys after that, and I don’t know what happened to you. Every time I heard Baba O’RIley, I remembered that night. At first it gave me the creeps, but then it became sort of a romantic thing, like this cool wild night from my teens. After a few decades I forgot about it. Then one night I decided to watch this new TV show. It was called CSI New York. The theme song came on, with blurry New York flashing lights. It was Baba O’Riley. I was sitting in my living room in Flushing, and suddenly it hit me. We tried to gang-rape you. You were thirteen years old, and the only reason we didn’t actually rape you was we were too wasted. You tried to kill yourself the next day. Jesus. I don’t know what I can possibly say, at this moment. I’m just so fucking sorry. I wish I’d never gone into the city with those guys that night. I hope you’re ok. I hope you can listen to Baba O’Riley without being sad. I hope you recovered from what we did to you. I hope you can watch CSI, if you like CSI.

Waiting on a lady.

graffitiresto by Suzanne Forbes April 28 2016I made this drawing while waiting for a lady from my recovery program and feeling a lot of grief and frustration about the inexorability of death.

My boyfriend Rob died thirty years ago, but I still don’t know how to fit his death into the world. Experiencing spring in a place with a New York climate again brings it all back like a freight train.

I found the invite to Ava and Conor’s wedding in my papers yesterday. They were so goddam scintillating. So clever, so beautiful, so young. At least Conor left Finn in the world.

Most of Rob’s art was public, because he was a graffiti artist, and the last of his big pieces disappeared from Soho years ago. I look for his tags in every photo of 80s New York I see, but don’t find them. Kim Basinger walks past one on Spring St. in 9½ Weeks. I dream about walking New York, looking for his pieces.

The longer I’m sober, the safer I am, the more I can experience things; some of those things are really hard.

I came home from the restaurant (which is our neighborhood bistro, called…Graffiti) and just sat and cried for two hours. Just crying, just tears flowing out of me like they had all the time in the world. There is nothing I can do but keep doing, keep trying to do the best I can to be a better person, to make the best art I can, to be the best friend and wife and teacher I can. But Jesus, I miss him.

We prickly thistles: in praise of problematic people.

Thistle by Suzanne Forbes Jan 27 2016

I hadn’t done a large, detailed embroidery piece in a while, so I decided to do a botanical.

And then I got interested in weeds, and prickly plants. I chose a thistle specifically, because it’s the symbol of Scotland, where my amazing mom was born, because they are beautiful and because some are poisonous, some nutritious.

Plus, thistles are the favorite food of the world’s only adorable depressive, Eeyore.

The last year has made me think a lot about how we judge people’s “undesirable” qualities. One of my beloved ex-boyfriends was here visiting in September, and I was telling him about some horrible thing I used to do when I was using. “I’m glad I didn’t know you then. I don’t think we would have been friends.” “I wasn’t nice“, I said ruefully. “I can’t imagine that.”, he said.

I was glad he considered niceness such a natural part of my character now, since becoming nicer has been one of my primary goals for the last twenty-seven years. But what he said made me sad. It seemed like a disservice to the incredible people who were brave enough and injudicious enough to love me when I wasn’t nice. There were a lot of them, and they saved my life a thousand times.

My oldest and dearest friend Victoria has known me at depth and loved me since I was an enraged, bitter, foulmouthed, shoplifting eight-year-old. She has loved me through her 21st birthday, when I did so many drugs the paramedics had to revive me before I could go to her party, even though I promised I wouldn’t be high on her birthday.

She loved me enough to say to me, in her maid of honor dress, in the fairy-tale carriage on the way to the church, “You don’t have to go through with this, you know.”

Does someone like me deserve a friend that good? I was a terrible girlfriend to good boys; I hit at least three of my boyfriends that I can remember, and I think I cheated on every single one. Usually with their best friends. I lied endlessly to my mother, whose shelter and protection was the only thing that kept me alive in an absurdly high-risk lifestyle, and crept into her bedroom to steal from her purse at night. I disappointed my teachers, whose guidance was the central force in my development as an artist.

I gave the boy I should have married drugs that killed him, and I still miss him every day.

I broke the heart of another boy who wanted to marry me, and I still miss him every day, though he lives happily with his wife in Seattle, doing martial arts with his kids and restoring their Victorian. I betrayed the trust of doctors and therapists who tried to care for me. I stole food and booze every single day for years. I had sex with underage boys and girls and gave them drugs and alcohol. I hurt the people I loved the most on a daily basis, for years.

And the really fucked up thing is, it didn’t all stop when I got sober.

I didn’t stop cheating on my boyfriends til I was over a year sober; I haven’t hit anyone since I got sober, but at four years sober I grabbed my first husband and threw him up against the fridge. It took me years to stop stealing small bits of food. I ran up credit cards and had to spend years paying them off with Consumer Credit Counseling.

My own brother has a daughter I’ve never met, because he stopped speaking to me back in ’98.

I can’r really blame him. I was a terrifying, nightmare sister, and it takes a rare family member to truly accept that someone you have known from babyhood can change. I lied to my editor on Star Trek, who I worshipped, because my crippling depression meant I was constantly running behind on my deadlines. I had to file bankruptcy in the early aughts because of my IRS debt. I was a verbal abuser and a bully to both my first and second husbands; I used compulsive shopping to medicate the pain of the relationships til sometimes we barely had money for food.

And my flashing furious temper cost me the friendship of a man who was one of the little brothers I always wanted; no amends I made could fix the relationship, and it is the greatest loss of my adult life. That’s something I’ve learned, going around to stores in New York to pay them back for things I stole and finding the owner changed: sometimes you can’t make amends. Some things you can’t fix.

But you can try. I have three jobs in life, since January 27, 1989. Wake up in the morning and try to stay sober that day, try to be a goddam better person that day, and then maybe make some art if I can. It gets easier to do better. My role models help. The vast majority of my friends and partners have always been much better, gentler people than me; it’s aspirational selection. I love niceness. I have a good boy fetish, not a bad boy fetish.

I have managed to spend five years with my third husband without ever belittling, shaming or abusing him. I have never even raised my voice or used hurtful language to him. I have managed to be kind and reliable to my friends consistently for years. I have learned to pay my bills (mostly) and show up on time for jobs (mostly). I just don’t go to the supermarket or the post office on the couple days a month when I can’t be trusted not to be a fucking rude bitch, because I’m tired of having to go back and apologize later.

I’ve come to believe you don’t have to be good to deserve to live; you just have to want to be better enough to try.

Dracula by Jon J. Muth

“Father- I’ve done…questionable things-” from Dracula by Jon J. Muth

Right now another young man who’s like a little brother to me is in trouble back in the Bay. He’s in the community stockade for his bad behaviour. I wish I could be there, to love him even if he’s done shitty things.

I wouldn’t be here if people hadn’t loved me even though I did questionable things. I don’t discard David Bowie because he slept with fifteen-year-old groupies or said reckless things about Hitler.

Arthur Chu, a writer I like a lot, recently said some good things about the imperfection of people.

He talks about how Janus-like our qualities are; how the worst things we do are sometimes part of the best of who we are.

My mom, whose wisdom I value more than anyone’s in the world, said something interesting to me about all the things that are fucked up about me.

She didn’t say it like that, of course, but she said those obsessive, difficult, compulsive, aggressive traits that have bought me so much trouble were also strengths that carried me through the terrible, exhausting move to Berlin and the crazy housing search.

I heard someone else refer to the unpleasant qualities of the alcoholic/addict personality as a survival tool kit for dysfunctional family living. The tools may not be very desirable or attractive in adult life, but it can be hard to shake the ones that continue to serve you. I try to remember that all I can do is keep growing.

And I remind myself, I was being the very best that I could be with the self I had at that moment.

I once had dinner at Chez Panisse with my second husband; I had nettle pasta and he had long-cooked beef ragout, the gristle softened into gelatin. Here in Berlin, I had nettle soup again, made of weeds gathered by the road in Friedrichshain. Weeds have their uses, and their beauty; tonight I have been clean and sober 27 years.

Ponies, ponies, PONIES!!

Our nearby shopping plaza has a Christmas village with a train, a carousel and PONY RIDES.Pony rides by Suzanne Forbes Dec 20 2015

It is so delightful. I sat on a bench next to the speakers playing Christmas music and drew; it was utterly wonderful.Pony rides by Suzanne Forbes Dec 20 2015

Some followers of my work may be surprised that I can draw a horse. A horse is an extremely difficult thing to draw; the famous British equine painter George Stubbs once said that if you can draw a horse, you can draw anything.

Actually, from age seven to age 13, I didn’t draw a single human. All I drew were horses.

I was one of those little girls who both loved horses and was lucky enough to be around them. We had a ramshackle country house in Maine with a barn where we spent every August, and I spent July at riding camp for several years. In Maine we rented a horse for the month, and I took care of it.

I wanted to be a champion rider, at first, maybe on the USET, and then I discovered that I really preferred to ride my pony bareback, with a hackamore, rambling in the woods and fields and beaches. I didn’t actually ever want to learn any kind of rigorous discipline besides drawing.

During this period, I figured my commercial art career would be as horse book illustrator.

I had a hero, Sam Savitt, who was an incredible illustrator, and his “Draw horses with Sam Savitt” poster hung next to my bed where I could study it constantly.drawhrs

Because my father wrote books and knew tons of people in publishing, I actually got to go to Mr. Savitt’s farm and meet him.

This was akin to the time I got to meet Jack Kirby at San Diego just a year before his death.

Studying Sam Savitt’s books was the beginning of my process of obsessive study and learning around drawing.
littlefellowRichRUdish

Rich Rudish, who did several books with wildly popular horse book author Marguerite Henry, was an idol of mine as well. He was a superb draughtsman with a particularly wonderful talent for the dished faces of Arabians.

Looking him up for this article I learned he created Rainbow Brite for Hallmark in 1986!

He sculpted the famous model of Henry’s Sham for Breyer. It is still one of the most beautiful Breyers ever made, I think. (I hope to build a stable for my dollhouse next year and house some of my Classic Breyers in it, so my action figures can go riding!)sham

 

I also liked Henry’s longtime collaborator, Wesley Dennis, though I felt his drawing skills weren’t as solid as Savitt’s. I dreamed of having a working relationship with an author like Henry. I didn’t want to write my own stories; I just wanted to draw the pictures.

Anna Klumpke portrait of Rosa BonheurA great role model was Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the nineteenth century, who dressed à la garçonne (in men’s clothing), and kept lions for pets. I felt her brio and power like a lifeline.

She was proof that women could make art that was as bold and fearless as men’s. I didn’t want to draw anything fragile or weak- I wanted my work to be a true draughtsman’s, absolutely grounded in anatomy and technical knowledge.

Here is her masterpiece, The Horse FairThe Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur

By seventeen my career plans had changed, and all I wanted in the world was to draw comics.

But you keep the skills learned as a child forever. I remember sitting on the hallway floor in the old Marvel offices with my friend Chris Claremont in ’86. We were talking with Bill Sienkiewicz, who was at the height of his stardom, and the subject of horses came up. MoonKnightpageBillSienkiewiczSo I taught Bill Sam Savitt’s technique for drawing the horse, there in the hallway at 387.

This Moon Knight page is from before he met me! Look at where the browband of the bridle is! Absolutely shocking 😉

Knowing how to draw a horse gave me the understanding to draw cats and dogs and goats and deer as well. And I do love to draw a goat. Especially baby goats.goat by Suzanne Forbes 2007

I don’t have cause to draw horses very often anymore, and that’s too bad.

Maybe I’ll find a portrait client here in Berlin who wants a picture with their horse, or their goat!