Alison Jacques Gallery has announced representation of Carol Rhodes (1959–2018) in partnership with the Carol Rhodes Estate, whose curator Andrew Mummery worked closely with Rhodes for much of her career. Carol Rhodes’s intense landscape paintings and drawings explore conceptions of ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ environments and subtly redefine ideas of beauty and expression. The first project will be an exhibition of paintings and drawings from across Rhodes’s career and is scheduled to open in February 2021.
Born in Edinburgh in 1959, Rhodes grew up in Serampore, India, where her father worked as a medic and a theology professor. In her teens, she relocated to the UK to complete her education, but continued to visit India into her twenties. This early experience of travel, and the complex feeling of belonging and displacement it provoked, would later prove formative in Rhodes’s art.
Having graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1982, Rhodes put aside art practice and spent some years in social and political activism. She also played an integral role in organisations such as the non-profit Transmission Gallery and the Glasgow Free University, which she co-founded in 1987. Upon resuming painting around 1990, Rhodes evolved her unique visual idiom, depicting strangely vacant landscapes that were increasingly shown from elevated perspectives.
Seemingly traditional in technique and modest in scale, Rhodes’s paintings were quickly recognised as highly original: often unsettling, they were at once emptied of life and saturated with it. The works look down upon semi-industrial or corporate sites; road and rail networks; refineries, airports, canals; power stations and processing plants. In these ‘edgelands’, the structure of human occupation and activity becomes visible, while the compositional distance can suggest alienation, but also minute curiosity and compassion. As Rhodes herself noted: “distance needn’t mean you’re detached”.
While the clustered rail tracks of Industrial Belt (2006; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) and the neat cul-de-sac of Houses, Gardens (2007; Yale Center for British Art) might present as faithful depictions of the ‘real world’, such paintings are, to use the artist’s phrase, “fictional syntheses”: they are assembled from multiple aerial photographs of widely-separated terrains. As such, Rhodes’s landscapes occupy an uneasy space between the unknown and the known. Merlin James has written: “It would be surprising to recognise a place you knew in one of her pictures. You just feel you know the kind of place”.
Rhodes spoke of the “spatially egalitarian” nature of her landscapes, “giving everything a sort of equal status”. The particular aesthetic oddness of the paintings is the result of this compositional flatness, amongst other factors. Colour, as in Open Ground and Mudflats (2009; private collection), is often subtly – or highly – synthetic. Perspective can remain in endless flux, as in Airport (1995; Tate). Through such factors, an abundance of connotation becomes implicit. While “not obviously political in concern”, as Lynda Morris wrote in the artist’s 2018 monograph, they resonate “with a whole range of issues – socio-geography, cultural history and individual vs. collective psychology”.
Rhodes died of motor neurone disease in December 2018; the depth and complexity of her art is becoming increasingly apparent.
During her lifetime, solo museum exhibitions of Rhodes’s work were presented at venues including The MAC, Belfast (2017); Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2007-08); Tramway, Glasgow (2000). ‘See the World,’ the first posthumous institutional exhibition of Rhodes’s work, is scheduled to take place in 2021 at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, as part of Glasgow International Festival.
Rhodes’s work has been acquired by public collections including Tate; Arts Council of England; British Council Collection; Center for British Art, Yale; City Art Centre, Edinburgh; Glasgow Museums; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh and Southampton City Art Gallery.