Appearing as abstract and enigmatic remnants of dreams, Dutch artist Cris Brodahl’s fragmented portraits distil themes of violence, beauty and femininity within their invisible brushstrokes. Taking as inspiration images gleaned from multiple sources including the pages of glossy fashion magazines, Brodahl cuts up and reworks her source material, creating deft photo-realist paintings that re-examine contemporary notions of glamour and sexuality.
The once bright, saturated magazine images Brodahl references take on a sinister pallor as they are transferred onto the canvas in brooding grey and sepia-tones reminiscent of antique photographs, a visual marker that the dark side of manipulated beauty is being revealed. The nostalgic, subdued hues suggest memory and the passing of time, of thoughts pushed back to the corners of the mind, and, following the Surrealists visual discourse, the haphazard sequence of dreams and their elemental relationship with waking life.
Perhaps interpreting her own experience as a photographer’s model, Brodahl’s dreamlike works, primarily of women, invert the traditional portrait; where the subject’s gaze is typically directed toward the viewer, Brodahl’s constructed subjects are often devoid of a discernable gaze and identity – faces are rendered hollow and often cut out entirely, or replaced with alternate imagery. An undercurrent of violence and decay lurks visibly beneath the surface, where the conventional beauty of the fashion models and celluloid starlets Brodahl appropriates have been irreversibly altered and violated by the act of discarding, abstracting and concealing.
Brodahl’s painting,‘Simulation’2008, featuring an interrupted female figure kneeling sans visage, torso masked by a patchwork of disjointed faces, seemingly points to the objectification of women within fashion photography. A gaping black hole takes the place of the subject’s face, perhaps indicating the role the photographer, and viewer, has in manipulating the model, using her image to sell a concept, product or identity. ‘The Sacring’ 2007, disposes of the body entirely as a gargantuan eye rests atop a brutal atomic explosion. Is the eye, and its intimidating outward stare, the arbiter of violence, its perpetrator or its conscience – or is it looking to us, the viewer, to reassess our perspective? As with dreams, the more one probes Brodahl’s paintings, the more inscrutable they become. The work is all the more illusive given that Brodahl insists upon a firm no interview stance, so that the lack of concrete narrative or intention for her ambiguous and introspective works only opens the door to further inspection and revelation.