Carol Rhodes

Scot­tish artist whose am­bigu­ous paint­ings speak of man’s de­sire to gov­ern the land

The Scotsman - - Obituaries -

Carol Rhodes, artist. Born: 7 April 1959 in Ed­in­burgh. Died: 4 De­cem­ber 2018 in Glas­gow, aged 59

Carol Rhodes was one of the lead­ing artists of her gen­er­a­tion. Her paint­ings have been ex­hib­ited in­ter­na­tion­ally and fea­ture in ma­jor col­lec­tions in­clud­ing Tate, the Arts Coun­cil, the British Coun­cil, Yale Cen­tre for British Art and the Scot­tish Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art, where an ex­hi­bi­tion of her work took place in 2007.

Rhodes’s par­ents were Church of Scot­land mis­sion­ar­ies who had been posted to In­dia and her mother only re­turned briefly to Ed­in­burgh in 1959, to give birth to Carol. They ini­tially lived in Nag­pur, then at the Univer­sity of Ser­am­pore, near Kolkota, where her fa­ther taught the­ol­ogy. At the age of 12 she was sent to a mis­sion­ary board­ing school in the Hi­malayas.

Two years later, the fam­ily moved back to the UK, set­tling first in Sus­sex and then in Dumfries, where her fa­ther was a Min­is­ter.

From 1977 she stud­ied paint­ing at the Glas­gow School of Art. She grad­u­ated in 1982 but stopped paint­ing soon af­ter­wards.

Rhodes’ par­ents were left­wing and grow­ing up as a priv­i­leged Euro­pean amid the poverty of Kolkota made her po­lit­i­cally aware.

In the early 1980s she be­came ac­tive in Fem­i­nist pol­i­tics, stay­ing at the Peace Camp at Green­ham Com­mon. After grad­u­at­ing, Rhodes be­came in­volved with Glas­gow’s Trans­mis­sion Gallery, where in 1986 she be­came a com­mit­tee mem­ber.

She worked part-time as a tech­ni­cian at Tramway and the Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art (CCA). An­other part-time job in­volved help­ing the writer Alas­dair Gray. She was also in­volved with the Free Univer­sity of Glas­gow, a fo­rum for the free ex­change of teach­ing skills.

Rhodes was keen to re­turn to paint­ing and in 1990 the op­por­tu­nity came when a friend of­fered to share her stu­dio space at Tramway in Glas­gow.

She be­gan paint­ing sin­gle ob­jects stand­ing enig­mat­i­cally in land­scapes, but grad­u­ally the mo­tifs dis­ap­peared and the land­scape took over. Rhodes fo­cused on the kinds ofland­scapewemight­glimpse from a car or train – the over­looked ar­eas that lie be­tween more dra­matic sites.

She said that she be­came par­tic­u­larly aware of this kind of site when she was out and about, push­ing a buggy, fol­low­ing the birth of her son, Hamish (to artist Richard Walker) in 1992.

Rhodes’s art ma­tured quickly, and by 1994 all the tropes of her later work were in place: the sub­ject mat­ter, the ae­rial view­point, the ab­sence of a hori­zon line, the fas­tid­i­ous brush­work.

Paint­ing on small, square, metic­u­lously primed MDF pan­els, she fo­cussed on un­pop­u­lated land­scapes of a very par­tic­u­lar type: in­dus­trial es­tates, quar­ries, reser­voirs, de­pots, car parks, air­ports. They are places where the man-made meets the un­tamed land­scape.

Her paint­ings speak of man’s de­sire to gov­ern the land: to flat­ten it and reg­i­ment it, to take stuff from it, store stuff on it, and dump stuff in it. They are land­scapes that are made by us, for us, and they are, in ev­ery sense, about us. Each paint­ing is a care­fully judged mar­riage of pre­ci­sion and am­bi­gu­ity. They are not po­lit­i­cal state­ments, or at least not overtly so, and she spoke of them in terms of colour, brush­work and com­po­si­tion.

Rhodes used a broad range of source ma­te­rial: pho­to­graphs (some taken her­self from a he­li­copter), travel and geog­ra­phy books, and a huge num­ber of art books.

A pain­ter’s pain­ter, with a keen knowl­edge of the his­tory of art, she ad­mired the work of un­fash­ion­able artists such as Sas­setta, Poussin, Chardin and Sick­ert. None of the land­scapes in her paint­ings ex­ists in real­ity: the fi­nal paint­ing might be a fu­sion of land­scape fea­tures from sev­eral dif­fer­ent coun­tries, re-crafted through the draw­ing process.

In1994rhodes was­in­cluded in the New Art Scot­land show at the CCA, and she be­gan show­ing at the An­drew Mum­mery Gallery in Lon­don from 1997. She taught at Glas­gow School of Art from the mid1990s un­til 2015.

A solo ex­hi­bi­tion was held in the Tramway Project Room in 2000 and her mid­ca­reer ret­ro­spec­tive at the Scot­tish Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art in 2007-08 was much ad­mired. In hang­ing the show, Rhodes – who was pre­cise, pa­tient and co-op­er­a­tive to a fault – tried ev­ery pic­ture in ev­ery pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tion.

In 1996 she met the artist Mer­lin James, who would be­come her part­ner in 2004. In 2012 they set up an ex­hi­bi­tion space at their home in Carl­ton Place, Glas­gow.

That year, Rhodes ex­pe­ri­enced slight weak­ness in her knee; at the end of 2013 mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease was di­ag­nosed. She be­gan us­ing a walk­ing stick in 2014 and a wheel­chair the fol­low­ing year. Her last paint­ings date from 2015. James rigged up a sling con­trap­tion in her stu­dio, tak­ing the weight off her arms and al­low­ing her to fin­ish a few last draw­ings in 2016.

She man­aged a trip to Lon­don in 2016, de­ter­mined to see shows of the 18th-cen­tury wa­ter­colour artist Frances Towne at the British Mu­seum and Winifred Knights at Dul­wich Pic­ture Gallery. An ex­hi­bi­tion of her paint­ings took place at MAC Belfast in 2017, but she was un­able to see it. A sub­stan­tial mono­graph on Rhodes, edited by An­drew Mum­mery, was launched ear­lier this year at the Glas­gow School of Art and shortly af­ter­wards at gal­leries in New York and Lon­don.

In the last year of her life Rhodes com­mu­ni­cated via an Eye Gaze Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Sys­tem, which tracked the move­ments of her eye over a screen key­board. In Au­gust the Konch record­ing project in­vited her to read a poem. They did not know that she could not speak. The love poem by Dante that she chose, spo­ken mov­ingly,in­un­even­burstsvia a younger, syn­the­sised voice, can be found on the web.

Carol Rhodes died peace­fully at home and is sur­vived by her son, Hamish, by her mother, He­len, and by her part­ner, Mer­lin James.

PA­TRICK EL­LIOTT

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