Born: April 7, 1959;

Died: December 4, 2018

CAROL Rhodes, who has died of motor neurone disease aged 59, was one of Britain’s most distinctive contemporary painters, and an influential figure at The Glasgow School of Art where she studied and later taught.

She grew up beside a great river, the Ganges in Serampore, Bengal, and died among close friends and family at her home in Glasgow overlooking the Clyde. Both these industrial cities haunted her works, in which landscape painting took on an intense and hallucinatory quality. Rhodes did not depict real places but imaginary landscapes, which, in their ambiguity and profound physicality, might also have been thought of as a kind of self-portrait. Their sense of distance on their subject matter echoed a profound sense of displacement she felt returning to the UK after her Indian childhood.

Her works depicts edgelands and hinterlands, estuaries and the infrastructure of the modern world, such as airports and a motorways: a landscape that was scarred by industrial development. Her paintings also maintain a looseness and an aerial perspective that evoke science fiction and early renaissance painting as much as a profound concern with the modern politics of the environment.

Rhodes was included in many significant surveys of British and European art and showed internationally, but most regularly with the Andrew Mummery Gallery in London. Her works are in many important private and public collections including the Tate, the Scottish National Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art. For her solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2007, the critic Tom Lubbock wrote of the way that her work was elusive, “this eye is teased into thinking it knows the terrain, but the terrain escapes it.” In 2017 Mummery curated a retrospective of her work for the MAC Belfast, showing her drawings in depth for the first time and revealing the inventive yet consistent nature of 25 years of painting.

Rhodes, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2013, was the child of two Church of Scotland missionaries. Her mother came from an artistic Edinburgh family. Her father was a surgeon who became a theologian and ordained minister. Growing up in India, with her brother John and sister Margaret, she came to Britain in her teens and moved to Glasgow to study at the art school, where she graduated in 1982.

In Glasgow she was a notable figure in the city’s radical feminist and lesbian politics of the eighties and became an activist, spending time at the Greenham Common Peace Camp and protesting against Trident at Faslane. She was an early committee member of the city’s artist-led Transmission Gallery and helped found the Free University, a coalition of radical voices from the worlds of art and literature who held public events. In the early nineties, she returned to painting. When newly a mother to her son Hamish (born 1992 to her then partner, the artist Richard Walker), she began to develop her distinctive approach.

At GSA she was a support for colleagues and inspiration for many young artists, particularly women, in a city often dominated by male artists. In 2012 she and her partner, the painter Merlin James, returned to the spirit of artist-led spaces and opened up their occasional gallery 42 Carlton Place, together curating well-researched and well-received exhibitions of artists like the Chicago imagist Christina Ramberg and the British painter Adrian Morris, who were like Rhodes, in art historical categories of their own.

Through the ordeal of her illness Rhodes found ways to make work even in adversity. When she was no longer able to paint, she oversaw a monograph on her work, edited by Andrew Mummery. For those of us working on the project her attention to detail was awe-inspiring. When unable to speak she communicated through eye-gaze technology and attended to every word and image in the book. It was published by Skira, Milan in April 2018 with launch events in London, New York, and a symposium at Glasgow School of Art.

Tall, austerely beautiful, charismatic and soft-spoken Rhodes embodied the life of the independent artist and determined dedication to her chosen path. She was radical in her politics, meticulous in her artistic focus and painterly skills, furiously dedicated to her studio practice and thoughtful in speech. She carried these qualities in her art, her everyday life and teaching work. “Something that always amazes me though,” she said, “is that painting is just someone making smears on a surface, but someone else can look at that and read it, and know if it stands up or not, if it’s interesting, and whether the artist is taking risks.”

She is survived by her partner Merlin James, her son Hamish Walker Rhodes, her mother Helen and brother John.