April 1984 Art Monthly London Roundup

Rhonda Whitehead at the Paton Gallery

Rhonda Whitehead’s paintings belong to that tendency which takes a tiny area of landscape, subjects it to detailed inves­tigation and re-creates it as a paradigm of the whole. She takes photographs of ploughed fields in Norfolk and uses the patterns of the ploughing lines as the structure of her paintings.

On subtly variegated grounds, usually of a single colour, lines form diagonal or radiating patterns or swoop in great swathes that evoke the three-dimensional space of a field in aerial view. Within them are areas of precise detail: translations of the microcosm from which the whole is expanded. The paint surfaces are mostly smudged and blotted overlays of colour, denying. by their imprecision, any speci­ficity of meaning to the patterning lines except the sense of an infinity of light and space. Sometimes rows of grass or leaves float across the surface, brush-made marks, conveying more precise, if more limited information. On the few occasions when the artist has used a brush through­out, the paintings suggest more strongly a feeling that perception has been res­tricted. They recall certain stubble fields rather than the idea of a whole county.

Until two years ago Rhonda Whitehead worked within minimalism and she retains the discipline and careful preparation of that way of working. Her present kind of painting is sometimes described as ‘deli­cate’ which is unjustly limiting. The strip­ping away of inessentials to a dominant colour and a single theme produces rather a robust and intense end-product, a con­centration of experience. Landscape painting is often pleasant to look at but vapid because it lacks this distillation. These were beautiful objects with a tough core.

Margaret Garlake