The landscape paintings of Carol Rhodes place us on, or near, the edge. From an aerial viewpoint, eerily distant from the world below, you find you are on the edge of town. You see a coastal container port maybe, an airport on the city outskirts, or, in a painting like Industrial Belt (2006), a piece of scrubby land crowded with anonymous offices and factory units.
Rhodes’s unpeopled landscapes are invented, created in the studio from aerial photographs and other sources, but they are also instantly familiar. Town (2005) could be any town. Service Station (2008), a rigid pattern in a muted green landscape, is nowhere in particular but it might be somewhere you know. All of this, however, is tricky. Look close and a road may peter out. There is an uncertain border between inner and outer worlds, a suggestion of the body in the tangled roads or in the crevices that open in the landscape of some of her works.
Technology is sometimes visible, but it also an implied presence in all of Rhodes’s paintings. Their aerial viewpoint has its roots in techniques of surveillance first developed through battlefield photography. But the paintings also evoke more ancient points of view: Renaissance townscapes, the little landscape models built by eighteenth-century painters, the miniatures that the artist might have encountered during her childhood in India. Rhodes has been distinguished by a singular dedication to her chosen art form, and has created a body of work unique in contemporary painting.
Her works are made in oil paint on board. They are small, smooth, densely worked and unusually intense. There is a mismatch between the vast landscapes and their tiny scale. Symbols of mobility – airports or motorways – are curiously stilled and empty. The movement in her paintings is provided instead by the vertiginous sweep of the landscape, the opening of a sudden chasm on rough ground, or by the movement of the paint itself. They tell us about the painter’s discipline in careful depiction and painstaking construction. Yet they also claim the painter’s freedom, to invent and to deceive. Rhodes’s landscapes make and remake familiar worlds, they mark boundaries and they break them.