Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

Tapestry in the Galleries: Christina Forrer

Last month I had the pleasure of seeing the tapestries of Christina Forrer at Luhring Augustine in NYC.  Thanks to Instagram, I’ve become aware of quite a number of new artist/weavers breaking into the scene, most coming out of LA or Brooklyn, who are focusing the limelight on textiles as a medium for expression to art world audiences. Christina Forrer’s work is new to me, so perhaps she is new to you as well. She gave me permission to share my pictures on social media, but rather than post them without offering any context, I wanted to share my experience of seeing her show and offer some information about her.

Christina Forrer (b.1978) is Swiss by birth, but attended art school in Pasadena and now maintains her studio in LA. Her many solo shows have been positively reviewed in every major art magazine.  Her subject matter has been described as simplified narratives of universal, interpersonal conflict.  Her cartoon like figures writhe across the surface of her tapestries without regard to perspective or anatomical realism. Her figures wag their tongues at each other like weaponry. Talk bubbles snake like plumes in and out through the protagonists ears and mouths, interconnecting them via visual chatter. Sometimes those talk plumes are forcefully shoved down the throats of the other figures. The coloration of some talk bubbles suggest that the content of the remark is nasty. The imagery, combined with chaotic compositions and harsh color juxtapositions, project a general feeling of unease, if not downright malevolence.  Used in this way, her playful drawing style avoids cuteness. 

Untitled (green background), 2018. Cotton, wool, linen, silk, and watercolor. 123”x88”

Untitled (brown background), 2018. Cotton, wool, linen, silk, and watercolor. 123”x88”

At first glance Forrer’s tapestries seem untraditional, but it is only her imagery and folk art aesthetic that makes it seem that way. For the most part the work follows the traditional “rules” of tapestry weaving – it is weft faced with discontinuous wefts, the pieces are rectangular with finished or fringed edges, nubby yarns here and there but otherwise flat, and mostly devoid of mixed techniques. She is clearly not a slave to the rules, but in weaving terms it is pretty straightforward. A description of her process at the gallery speaks of a drawn cartoon behind the warp, and hundreds of hours spent at her loom. We know it well! It is not process that sets her apart; it is what she does with the process that earns our attention.

Three Awake, 2018

The piece “Woman (with eyes open)” was full of details worthy of feeding the weaving geek.  Woven entirely with natural and bleached cotton seine twine, subtle variations of tone are created by different weaving treatments.  The darkest areas are produced with an open lattice of 1:1 plain weave, using transparency technique and shadow to create the background for the figure. The texture of the rock she is climbing under is created by weaving three strands of cotton through the single warps. The flesh of the woman is woven with two strands instead of three and is packed down to be smoother and more conventionally weft faced.

Woman (with eyes open), 2018. Cotton. 60”x160”

Her work is also solidly grounded in historical tapestry precedents.  She cites the tapestries of Ernst Ludwig Kirshner woven by Swiss weaver Lise Gujer as one of her primary influences. Kirshner’s use of strong color and abstracted figuration marries well with their mutual interest in folk art. Another cited influence is the work of Hannah Ryggen, whose figures similarly disregard conventions of scale and perspective in her woven narratives.  And finally, although Forrer does not claim any particular admiration for Swiss-German medieval tapestries, her wide eyed, cartoonish faces are not unlike the doll-like appearances of people found in this tapestry genre.

If you get a chance to see Christina’s work first hand, don’t miss it. She has a really interesting take on contemporary cultural issues and she uses the medium of tapestry in a thought provoking way.

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