Christina Forrer’s weavings are as engrossing on the level of the individual stitch and strand as they are jolting pictorially and thematically. Idiosyncrasies of the hand ally with order imposed by the loom, and sweetness is spiked with strife. Forrer’s startlingly fresh aesthetic felt revelatory in her first solo show at Grice Bench in 2014, and this follow-up was no less thrilling.
Domestic terror courses through the most exhilarating works on view—not the kind carried out by ideologues and suicide bombers and reported in the news, but rather a more private, existential friction, the dark twin of domestic bliss. An untitled piece in wool, cotton, and linen (all works 2016) is a prime example. In this homey scene, floppy blue leaves and a single pink flower fill a polka-dotted vase on a table near where a mother plays with her baby. The child, on its back, stretches finlike arms overhead and looks up in innocent wonder, past the woman’s pendulous breasts and toward her face, which gapes in alarm straight out at us, as a black skeleton reaches from behind to wrap its bony arms around her. Mortality is real, death is near, even in the cozy everyday.
Forrer, who was born in Switzerland and is based in Los Angeles, abbreviates and simplifies her forms, melding the folksy naive with the cartoonish. Eyes are saucer-round and cheeks bear big solid dots of rouge. Space is shallow, tipped up, and stripes do double duty as figure and ground, description and pure pattern. Broad passages of mostly unmodulated color define the subjects, as in the paintings and textiles of Kirchner, her chief inspiration. She seems to look past her immediate forebears (fiber artists of the ’60s and ’70s) to earlier generations of weavers, such as Sophie Tauber-Arp, and painters who chronicled the baseness and peculiarity of human behavior, like James Ensor.
Forrer’s palette has an urgency all its own, oscillating between retro, earthy tones and standard Crayola hues. Her yarns run both coarse and delicate. They adhere to the structure of warp and weft but also deviate marvelously from it, with improvised, oversize stitches outlining the curve of an ear, for instance, or those round blossoms on the figures’ cheeks. Seams sometimes bulge like raised scars where colors meet, amplifying the transition through texture. Such lumpy irregularities give Forrer’s surfaces an agitated immediacy akin to expressionistic brushwork.
Companionship and conflict tie the knot in the spectacular Couple, a face-off between two shrieking characters that squeezes all possible meanings out of the word “hysterical.” Bluebirds and bell-shaped flowers serve as sprightly backdrop to the confrontation. Men is a tamer double portrait, tender in its depiction of rhyming paunches, and Woman with Dress is lovelier still, the garment a maelstrom of color stretching the width of the panel (four feet) and assuming the weaving’s fringe as a hem. Forrer has a spirited way with both individual form and overall design. Within these works, she manages to integrate violence and charm, the epic and the intimate, the import of a grand tapestry tradition and the unpretentious verve of a humble craft.