Back in December 2019 we visited Thomas Lerooy's studio in Brussels and were fascinated by the new body of oil paintings he was experimenting with at the time. And last Friday, during the Brussels Gallery Weekend, we were lucky to see the new all paintings show that opened at rodolphe janssen in the Belgian capital.

If you feel more than butterflies in your stomach marks the fourth show by Lerooy at the gallery and is comprising a compact suite of small and medium-sized oils on canvas. Borrowing a title from the chucklesome text found on a vomiting bag, the presentation might feel unconventional for the Roeselare-born artist while carrying a lot of the qualities of his previous work. Cause over the past decade or so Lerooy has built a reputation as an accomplished sculptor and a drawer, but it was the limitations of drawing and the constraints that gravity imposes on the sculpting practice that prompted him to switch his focus to oil painting. And once he set his mind on working with the brush and canvas, he was eager to explore this new medium with the same interest in duality and the impossible as well as the same passion for craftsmanship and manual labor.

Painted as realistic vignettes of sorts but heavily relying on the captivating trompe l'oeil effect, the series of works comprising this exhibition is strongly rooted in the Belgian surrealist tradition. It's this ability to create the impossible that had drawn Lerooy to elaborate on these concepts, creating a body of work that is harmoniously flowing while making sudden turns and changing directions. As much as a single piece has elements that are alluring or even romantic, the entire show is contrasting images of grace and appeal against ones of decay and tragedy. Whether it's a paint roller buffing a sculptural compound or a boy hiding behind his lobster-like claws, the artist is taking the viewer on a ride full of unexpecting surprises, pushing and pulling their interest and playing with their emotional feedback. Painted in a very traditional manner and consistently framed in a dark wood tray frame, the work feels historic and elegant from afar, only to reveal some original concepts on the very surface. Experimenting both conceptually and technically, Lerooy will use candlelight or a squeegee to quite literally destroy the scene or a snail's slime trail to sharpen the sections of an otherwise blurry image. Mixing the trompe l'oeil appeal with his love for craftsmanship, the artist has developed a variety of technical tricks and hacks through which the desired scene becomes that much more real. And whether we're looking at a female torso exposing a bare breast through the ocean cleavage, or a pair of eyes are looking at us from a pair of ripe bananas, chances are these 15-ish paintings will make you feel more than butterflies in your stomach.  —Sasha Bogojev

All photos courtesy of the artist and rodolphe janssen, Brussels // Photo credit by Hugard & Vanoverschelde