Paint seems the natural medium for expressionist art. It can be brushed, sprayed, thrown, dripped, squeezed, troweled—you name it—all instantaneously, and it can feel that way, too. More laborious and often-collaborative graphic media, like mosaic, stained glass, or tapestry, not so much. But when those media do give a feeling of spontaneity—wow! That unexpected thrill can overwhelm anything else the image might convey. And so it is that pious medieval church windows can attract secular viewers in the modern era—and Christina Forrer’s tapestries can captivate me despite my puzzlement and discomfort with most of the narratives presented. They feel so much more fresh and alive than, for example, the expressionist tapestries of Ernst Kirschner, probably because Kirschner’s were woven by a hand other than his own.“Winter” is the only conventional narrative here: snow is falling, a warmly dressed skater slides across a frozen pond, a wolf howls at the moon, a house cat stares out from a nearby tree. No special knowledge of art, myth or psychology is required. It’s what you might call folk art, and it feels warm and cheerful. In fabric art, there are no hard edges, no continuous lines and no pictorial space. But Forrer’s interwoven threads give a pretty good idea of what’s happening. What’s especially remarkable is the raggedy profile of the frigid skater’s face. It projects so much excitement, wonder and action.
On entering the gallery, the first piece, “Regula,” suggests that the show might be an homage to pre-Columbian textiles like the spectacular examples from Peru at the Brooklyn Museum. The single figure is so eruptive, present and profound. Down at her stomach, she holds her head in her hands while ribbons of vibrant color emanate from the severed neck, suggesting a meditation practice. It gives hope that this body of work will be more cosmic and less comic than our local fifty-year tradition of Imagism. Yet it is precisely that tradition which the artist invokes in the title piece for this exhibition, “November Calling April (Zurich to Chicago).” It presents the only text included in any of Forrer’s tapestries, here or online: “RING!” goes the cartoon telephone that’s receiving the call. And the exhibition is accompanied by a darkly humorous cartoon zine that serves as its catalog. The artist was born in Switzerland and now lives in Los Angeles, but her inner edgy teenager has always been Chicagoan.
These are pieces that may appear awkward from a distance, yet this viewer couldn’t help being drawn closer to their vibrant surfaces and enveloped by their luxuriant, colorful world. It’s a world of self discovery and merry, big-toothed creatures, threatening not because they are cruel, angry or malevolent, but just because they are hungry. While family dynamics have often been the theme of her earlier work, here the focus is on the wonder and anxiety felt by a child. We have entered a nursery of fairy tales for children rather than a temple of mythology for adults. That doesn’t make the visuality any less virtuosic. Forrer is a master of formal energy. But it would make the content more disposable, if you ever manage to outgrow it. (Chris Miller)
“Christina Forrer: November Calls April,” on view at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2156 West Fulton, through June 12