‘One of the most remarkable painters we have’ – William Packer
Shani Rhys James: tea on the sofa, blood on the carpet was a major exhibition of new work by the acclaimed artist Shani Rhys James; charting her painterly challenge of the cyclical and relentless passage of life in the artist’s frank, emotional and exuberant style.
Shani Rhys James is one of the UK’s most respected living painters and has been hailed as one of the greatest talents of her generation. She is the winner of countless prestigious painting prizes, including the Jerwood Prize in 2003 for a body of work including ‘The Black Cot’ (2000) and was made an MBE for services to art in 2006.
In her unflinching portraits, interiors and still lifes, Rhys James often returns to distilled childhood memories and her own mirrored image as the basis for her emotionally-charged subjects. ‘Tea on the sofa, blood on the carpet’ was a curated survey of the artist’s latest body of work in which she explores the transience of being; contrasting her early iconic painting of a child’s cot with startling images of the female figure ravaged by decay.
The exhibition also included some of Rhys James’s best-known paintings, including ‘Yellow Wallpaper II’ (2012), ‘Black Chandelier’ (2012) and ‘Blue Top’ (2013) in which the artist explores themes of sexuality, domesticity and identity with her strong feminist voice.
While the artist’s earlier paintings stage the drama of the mother/daughter relationship as an often dark family tableaux, her recent work confronts the fragility of domestic life, ageing and the curious infantilisation we face during our first moments of life and again, in old age.
Mixing the strange with the familiar, her glassy-eyed and haunted subjects are dwarfed by riotous wallpaper, unwieldy floral bouquets and gigantic furnishings, with seemingly ordinary, everyday objects belying a sense of threat and horror. It’s a theme Rhys James saw played out many times as a child when she watched her actor mother perform countless roles including Nora in ‘A Doll’s House’ in her native Australia and later, as part of London’s avant-garde theatrical scene.
Banner image: Oil of Ulay (detail), 2018, Shani Rhys James, courtesy the artist and Martin Tinney Gallery.