Georgia Russell carved her reputation by cutting up photographs and books. She thrilled audiences in 2015 when she moved to canvas, positioning one painting over another, slitting the one in front to reveal—in the voids created with her scalpel—the second canvas pulsing behind it. Now, in a different form of breakthrough, Russell has nearly relinquished her weapon. On a single linen canvas, she creates illusory slits with her brush and real ones with her trusty scalpel. Take a look at any work in “Paintings”—opening at the Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, on September 13—and it’s hard to believe that you’re not seeing two separate canvases. By limiting her means, and mastering a more traditional approach to making art, Russell has produced even greater complexity and visual interplay than she did before.

Position yourself about two meters from any one of these paintings. While relishing the whole, you can indulge in the marvel of going in and out of what you perceive to be small spaces. At one moment, white paint seems to hover on top of the colors; at the next, it lurks behind them. And then you find yourself accepting an apparent impossibility: it does both at once. Russell has coaxed you to abandon your usual sense of what is real and what is not.

In Speak, Memory, a memoir beloved to Russell, Vladimir Nabokov writes, “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Russell’s elegant new paintings reach into that light. —Nicholas Fox Weber