Image courtesy of the artist and the Approach Gallery. Photograph: FXP Photography
Image courtesy of the artist and the Approach Gallery. Photograph: FXP Photography

Judging speculatively from her work, the Belgian artist Cris Brodahl must be a sensitive sort. Brodahl makes monochrome photorealist, film-noirish paintings of sensuous and brooding female forms, influenced by surrealism.

But her new series at Approach Gallery marks a departure for the artist, in the introduction of sculptural form. The passive female beauty taken from 1930s and 40s film is contrasted and paralleled with an active exploration of modernist sculpture. In the painting Lightyears (2015), from which the exhibition takes its name, collaging becomes the physical crack of a door opening slowly where the subject slowly emerges. The canvas is sized and mounted onto an aluminium-cut angled back, offering a blade-like edge.

There is a sense of a yearning here, a yearning to manifest some sort of identity, whether fiction or fantasy. Brodahl slows down time in the way she pauses on details, producing a quiet space away from contemporary visual cacophony.

These are paintings in which mystery is taking place, the different sections of the image, precisely cut like blades of shattered glass, introducing an interruption to the passage through the canvas. Stripped of excess, taking a closer look rewards the viewer by revealing subtle nuances of colour within the monochrome paintings. The way Brodahl’s works are arranged within the gallery is particularly well-considered. Some pieces are hidden from sight, gradually creeping into view after some absorbed observation. This is done through thin partitions and a table-height shelf, and the diagonal slats added to the window in the gallery, evocative of crisp white paper.

Lightyears by Cris Brodahl is at The Approach gallery, 47 Approach Road, E2 9LY until 27 March

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