Neil Manson Cameron reviews a show by Carol Rhodes, a painter with a bird's eye view.
Carol Rhodes at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until 24 February.
This Glasgow-based artist, whose work is currently on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, is often described as a painter of imaginary landscapes, but that identifies only a superficial layer. Her imagery is composite: some of it observed, some of it concocted, but if you get
too caught up in the minutiae of her surface forms you miss the deeper strata. Rhodes uses subject.
Her compositions are typically arrayed as out-takes as seen from the air, and this introduces an abstract dimension while still appearing to be observational. In effect, while she appears to be representing something reduced to its core elements by virtue of an aerial viewpoint, she has determined what those elements are, whether they are unpopulated coastal fringes, post-industrial marginalia or the serrated junctions of the man-made and the natural.
Rhodes is painstaking in her approach to the physical act of painting, completing just a handful of works a year, and what really impresses me is the resolution of her compositions. Painted in oil on board, none of the works in this survey exhibition is more than 81cm in its longest dimension. There is
a sense of weighting and balance amid line, mass, tone and colour for which ‘beautiful’ is probably the best adjective. Rhodes’ use of paint is often diagnostic, her brushstrokes subtly concealing or revealing, whether drifted as dissolved pigment across the surface to parody the sea, or scumbled into blocks to notate the shadowed walls of a building.
In representing what we might seem to know while simultaneously undermining it, Rhodes frees herself from the strictures of naturalism while appropriating its idiom. Highlighting ambiguities in Rhodes’ depiction of identifiable landscape forms is tangential. These are allusional more than descriptive works of art, some of which suggest, in their scabby, carbuncular and pustular forms, so
many corporeal imperfections and deformities. It’s as if they were symptoms illustrated in a
medical textbook as much as descriptions of topography.
There is a sense of dislocation in Rhodes’ work, but it would be too easy to ascribe this to her own divided upbringing between India and Britain. It is more a depersonalised sense of estrangement of the kind conveyed in a J G Ballard novel or the music of Joy Division. The overall timbre is one of
melancholy, which comes not only from tone and palette but also from embedded themes of randomness, mutability and interchangeability. Rhodes’ paintings transmute these elusive themes into a kind of geology.