September 24th 1999 An Artist very much in her elements

H&H Series September 24th 1999 Ham &High, Helen Smithson Art 35

PEOPLE tend to divide into those with a preference for the coun­tryside and those who feel it necessary to be near water. Rhonda Whitehead belongs to the hit­ter group. Although from her home in Swains Lane, Highgate, large expanses of water might not be immediately accessible, it has always been an important part of her creative vocabu­lary.

Which highlights another paradox. She was born in one of the hottest, dri­est continents on earth: Australia. These apparent contradictions are all to be found in her work which is currently on show at Highgate Fine Art and the Highgate Gallery in Earth, Rock. Water.

Her Water series of paintings springs from her time spent in the Waveney Valley in Norfolk, where she may be seen examining pieces of algae drifting along in the water. Back at her studio in Highgate she transforms these tiny portions of the natural land­scape into very large paintings.

Rock, Australia Series

Although entirely abstract, her water paintings have the feeling of an image seen under a microscope. Flat­tened onto the surface of the canvas, she captures well the fleeting second when the light hits some submerged object. Whether this is the algae of marshy Norfolk, or the brightly colored coral of Australia.

It is this sense of vast skies and huge landscapes seen at close range that unites the work. This longing took her on an extended trip to Australia in 1996, where she became fascinated by Ayer’s Rock.

The Ayer’s Rock paintings vary in size from small squares to 5 x 4ft works. The tiny images manage to convey the huge mysterious rock at the dead center of Australia. The fissures and stains of the ancient geological formations she paints in series of tiny marks, or slant­ing, strata-like strokes, as the deep reds of the rocks are set against the eyeball-searing blue of the sky.