August 22nd 1986 Linda Talbot Ham&High

Norfolk reeds make a music that defies notation; fields sigh with waves of wheat and water lies, implacable as glass.

Rhonda Whitehead has photographed the rhythmic marks of land and water until they seem ambiguous, semi abstract, no longer the practical preparations of farmers but moodscapes remote from time and place.

A selection, with her paintings, is on show at the Square Gallery in Pond Square, Highgate, a new venture with premises converted from Express Dairies and run by Jean Evans, a former air hostess. When Concorde took a dive before landing at New York, she broke her leg and subsequently gave up flying.

She has settled instead for flights of imagination, although Rhonda Whitehead’s photographs have a mysticism rooted in reality. Blue water glints about reeds where each stem is significant, as though potently charged. Or water lies like marble immobile, shades of green, black and brown, liable to shift with wind and the play of light. Strips of green float – the hairs of some wetlands sprite? And there are leaves scattered like fertile stars.

Lily pads recur – in one picture with dense strands that reach weirdly from the water, and elsewhere there are surfaces that might bear craters, sullen planets strung in space. In winter, broken ice is strewn like precious stones, or sheets of ice are faintly traced with lines.

Here paintings reflect, more airily, the countryside, where water, field and sky appear to merge, sometimes flecked with color, like birds borne of mirage. And there is sweeping yellowish green with grass blades like scratches on the face of passive fields.

She lived in Norfolk for about 10 years before painting the land. Then she was drawn to the quality of color, often more intense in the grey than in strong sunlight.

She moved from Minimalist work to the use of banded color in graduated planes. She photographed the sky, observing its tonal integration. And she noted specific details of the land, moving in her work from the familiar to forms of personal impact.

She studied field ends, hedgerows and ploughing patterns. They are seen from above, often from the top of church towers and then magnified.

She uses her camera to indicate pattern, scale, colour. And the photograph provides limits by which the subsequent picture is confined. In watercolor she makes working drawings with some details omitted, others accentuated. The swathes made by the turn of a tractor may be dramatised, the shape of a cloud distinguishable from others, tonally developed.

She is concerned with conservation as big drainage schemes get under way and her water studies are the result of an involvement with a group defending an area of wetland against a property developer.

In these works where reflections create illusions, colour is as vital as elusive form. It may re-create shapes, altering their essence, while being changed itself by what pre-exists.

The artist says “I spent a lot of time walking and looking at different aspects of water; stagnant, frozen – water on the broads, plant life in the water in an area of wetlands in East Ruston. I took slides, made prints, then the drawings which are blown up into paintings. I find it interesting to link ideas with concern for the environment and conservation”.

In urban contrast she has completed murals, including one with bands of colour on a neutral ground for a 90′ long subway in Muswell Hill. In others she has created a sense of space. But it is the wind swept acres to which she is now committed. Her show is open until August 30.