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Christina Forrer weaves together pain, humor and anger at Grice Bench

Forrer weaves tapestries in wool, cotton and linen. Her charged narratives conflate the epic and the intimate.

Thank goodness for the continuing breakdown of categories defining artists by medium, for the permission it grants them to roam freely, unencumbered, through the universe of possible materials.

Thank goodness as well for the ongoing dissolution of hierarchies among disciplines, the leveling of the traditionally high and traditionally low, so-called art and so-called craft.

These were my thoughts when visiting Christina Forrer's exhilarating show at Grice Bench -- gratitude for the messy openness of the art world these days. The flip side of its anything-goes laxness is an anything-goes embrace of risk. This moment, more than any in recent memory, allows for an artist like Forrer to emerge and be recognized.

Born in Switzerland and based for the last decade in L.A., Forrer weaves tapestries in wool, cotton and linen. Her charged narratives conflate the epic and the intimate, visual distillation and psychological complexity. They are steeped in pain, humor, anger and grief.

In "Two People Fighting," she renders a domestic dispute in the form of domestic decor, a hanging rug complete with boldly colored stripes and fringe. A yellow-haired woman, her cheek blazing purple, wraps her long, boneless arms around the neck of her startled mate in the center of the weaving.

Emblems of the comforts of home -- houseplants and daisies -- encircle them, but so do Pac-Man-like laughing heads and a woman's disembodied, high-heeled leg jutting into the air. The scene pits buoyant props and colors against the deflating, disturbing realities of interpersonal strife.

"Woman With Waves Coming Out of Her Mouth" shifts the scene outdoors, but the battle here too is reduced to two combatants. One, on horseback, has a lance raised and ready but is deluged by a fury of brown, green and gray waves streaming from between the bright red lips of the other -- woman-next-door as mythic demon. A pleasantly ornamental border of branches heavy with golden fruits frames the dispute, and a graphic black-and-white skull hovers ominously in the upper right corner.

Forrer cites as influential the intense emotionalism of color in the work of German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner as well as the simple, direct forms of folk art.

James Ensor also comes to mind, especially in Forrer's small, panoramic "Procession," with its grotesque faces and evocation of communal rites. Forrer's fusion of the decorative and the indecorous, the naive and the sophisticated has startling potency.

Her work has barely been seen in L.A. before, making this show a revelation. The smallest, quietest piece, "Dead Person," a portrait of raw mortality in neutral cotton thread, had me gasping.

Grice Bench, 915 Mateo St., (213) 488-1805, through Dec. 13. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. www.gricebench.com

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