July 5th 1996 Inspiration on the river bank

WIND-STIRRED water laced with weed is dis­tilled into movements of the mind by Rhonda Whitehead. She has looked long at Norfolk rivers, following the subtleties bf flow and tonal change and now The Water Series by this artist, who lives in Swains Lane, Highgate, is at The Artery in Cheshire Street, Bethnal Green.

Most recent paintings are inspired by the River Waveney at Mendham, in Suffolk, a favourite haunt, where Alfred Munnings walked the Water meadows and exchanged paintings for drinks in the local pub.

Here, the river flows beneath a great iron bridge, winding with intensity, when the sun shines, by swans in quiet fields.

One oil, inspired by this stretch of water, moves with greens on a mid blue ground. Here weed repeatedly gathers and glides to create fresh forms. The mood is dark but bears lighter hints of blue.

“I may plan a painting only to get half-way through and find it’s taking another direction,” Whitehead admits. Or she may do two versions of the same location.

“I look for the right medium to express an idea in a minimal way,” she explains. She may scrape the surface, so glimpses of ground colour appear. She scrubs or uses her fingers, emulating the shifting growth and shadow as though probing their essence. She applies layers and uses brushes to add detail and the sprinkled effect of floating elements on deep water.

In another impression there are rare flecks of yellow on green with implications of blue. These intermittent hints of yellow vitally enliven the sometimes sluggish surface of the water. One interpre­tation has the yellowish green of spring growth that might have drifted into the water from the burgeoning banks.

Previous works have been based on the wetlands of North Norfolk. “I even like the sludge from the farmers’ fields with the effect of white flowers pushing through,” she admits.

The movement of the water may be interpreted on a visual, emotional or abstract plane. Or it may prompt philosophical mus­ings or be drawn into a tightened funnel of directed thought.

In pencil drawings — re-work­ings of old images — the vagaries of flowing water are more tenta­tive, touched by the merest flecks of yellow and pink. These works grow increasingly ghostly but even the most wraith-like has whispers of pale orange.

Born in Sydney, Whitehead has returned to her homeland for two months.

The show is open until July 28.