Carol Rhodes in conversation with Andrew Mummery, September 2017
What for you is the function of the drawings and how do they make the paintings possible?
When I first went to art school I just caught the end of that teaching of ‘how to make a painting’ from sketches and studies and colour notes etc., when that was mostly already an affectation. So all that fetishisation of the artist’s process makes me queasy. But yes, the drawings are cartoons for painting – entirely functional. I work out through them how to put together things from different photographic sources. Sometimes I’ve been able to use just one image of an existing place, though some elements may have to change as I work.The lines of the finished drawing are then traced onto the primed board for the painting.The painting sometimes can diverge from the drawing, and I might go back to the drawing to work out the changes. (That’s why a lot of them have different colour lines, to let me know which part to retrace.)
For years I didn’t see them as having value beyond their use as a tool for the painting. I kept all the drawings in a plans-chest drawer and didn’t show them to anyone. I can’t remember how I came to see them differently. It’s so interesting that that can happen – you can recognise something as art. It took a few people to see them and say ‘hang on, these are interesting’, for me to look at them more objectively. But some of them work in their own right and some don’t. It’s not the Duchamp thing of ‘I say this is Art’ and it becomes art.
Many different aspects have to combine to make a drawing come together. Looking at so many pictures (photos, plates in books) and keeping them all in mind, being super intuitive while having to be very practical. Starting a new drawing is a delight, it means anything is possible and in a way it’s very simple – just pencil and an eraser. But then there’s a massive mental juggling process. It is very difficult to do.
Carol Rhodes was born in Edinburgh in 1959 and brought up in Bengal, India. She was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2013 and died in 2018.
A monograph on her work, which includes the conversation quoted from above, was published by Skira Editore in 2018.