Road to nowhere
Rosie Lesso looks at the work of Glasgow-based Carol Rhodes, and finds beauty in abandoned car parks and industrial wastelands
Carol Rhodes’ meditative, repetitive approach to landscape painting could be linked to artists such as Friedrich, Corot, Monet or Cezanne, each in their own way sharing an obsession with the genre, though, as the artist Merlin James points out: ‘Rhodes’ world is odder, more synthetic and unlikely’. But, as this retrospective exhibition reveals, all Rhodes’ landscapes are small, modest and representational, so what exactly makes them so odd?
This is the first museum exhibition of the Glasgow based artist’s work, displaying paintings from the early 1990’s up to the present day. John Leighton, Director General at the National Galleries of Scotland feels the aerial viewpoint creates a feeling of unease for the viewer, as if, ‘we are spying on the land, and must keep our distance for a reason.’ Perhaps what makes this sensation of spying particularly strange is that it remains unclear where we are, or who we might be spying on. Rhodes’ barren, un-peopled landscapes reveal little to us beyond elements of humanity’s interventions on the land – airports, car parks, quarries and warehouses. People were here once, but who knows when?
This aerial viewpoint also means there is neither horizon line nor sky. A lack of sky to create atmospheric effect is unusual, and perhaps adds to the secular nature of Rhodes’ paintings. For instance, Friedrich’s paintings depicted a time when nature’s force equalled God’s force, where man confronted God via the landscape, gazing with admiration and awe into the sky. By contrast, in Rhodes’ paintings we actually assume God’s elevated position: looking down, not up. Similarly, given that all the paintings are of a similar, modest size no larger than a couple of feet it is clear Rhodes does not want to bombard us with a near-religious experience of nature’s power – these are not en plein air paintings, nor do they reveal the seasons, nor the weather.
Instead, Rhodes creates small, still spaces for contemplation. This interiority is absorbing, so even without a sky a sense of light pervades them. For example it is clear which paintings are set at night-time, as in ‘Car Park’ 2003, or ‘Forest’ 1999. More recent daytime paintings such as ‘Houses, Gardens’, 2007 reveal developments in chiaroscuro techniques, where we assume a lower viewpoint over a housing estate, each little 3D building and tree carefully casting its own shadow. Her recent paintings also reveal greater vibrancy in colour too, where the pallid beiges and browns have been replaced by purples, blues and bright greens.
Links have been made between Rhodes’ landscapes and elements of the human body, just as critics once linked Cezanne’s landscapes with female forms. One can’t also help thinking here about the many links between micro and macro worlds. There is much to be found in Rhodes’ patiently worked landscapes, but perhaps most interesting are the questions her paintings raise without answering. As John Leighton recently said; ‘although she seems to be showing us something, (she is) at the same time holding us back.’
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Sat 1 Dec–Sun 24 Feb