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Shani Rhys James MBE (b.1953)

Born in 1953 in Australia, but based in Powys, Shani Rhys James MBE is best known for her oil painting portraits, particularly self-portraits and she is often situated amongst the clutter of her studio, the studio acting as her landscape, instead of the mid-Wales mountains and rivers.

Rhys James' works are often monumental canvases and in thick impasto oil of fiery colours. The paint seemingly applied in a turbulent fashion and often the artist can be seen staring quite madly with bulging eyes. There are obvious similarities with Edvard Munch’s portraits but also comparisons have been made with Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and John Bellany while the piercing eyes are reminiscent of L S Lowry’s head portraits such as ‘Portrait of Young Man, 1955’. The artist rarely portrays men in her paintings and even now we may find it difficult to think of artists who capture the deeper human element of the female sitter rather than more superficial portraits.

Shani Rhys James gained a degree in fine art from St. Martin’s School of Art and has for some time been widely recognized as one of the most important contemporary British artists. She has enjoyed RA exhibitions and has won numerous awards including first prize for fine art at the National Eisteddfod in 1992, and the prestigious Jerwood Painting Prize in 2003.

So what are the reasons for the success of the artist and why does her work command such high prices at the auction rooms?

Shani Rhys James shocks us to a standstill. She then engages us to contemplate the context of the self-portrait, the expression of the face and the symbolic nature of objects around her and their relationship with the sitter. Shani Rhys James is the ultimate Welsh artist show-stopper, we just cannot walk past her paintings. During our Welsh Sales viewings, we hear the more cautious collectors remarking of Shani Rhys James’ work that ‘it would certainly not be for them’ (or words to that effect)! But there is almost always a reaction. Whether that be hugely positive or negative, and after all, what is art without reaction?

We at Rogers Jones & Co are always excited to handle these 'shock and awe' pieces which are so riotous compared to most of the other content in our Welsh Sales. Art history is full of painters who had a knowing fan-base during their working life, while others looked on disparagingly. Eventually, perhaps even generationally, such artists reputation and importance grows. Shani Rhys James is already regarded as important but as time goes on I think her influence will become all the more apparent. She is the most important female Welsh artist in a generation.

Below are some of Shani Rhys James' work that we have sold at our Welsh Sale auction. Should you wish to have an example assessed and valued, please contact:

Ben Rogers Jones

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