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Shani Rhys James won the prestigious Jerwood Painting Prize in 2003 and was made an M.B.E. in 2006 for services to Welsh Art.


Shani Rhys James was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1953. Her father was a Welsh surgeon and her mother was an Australian actor and artist. She arrived in UK in 1963 with her mother. She attended Parliament Hill Girls School and trained as an artist at Loughborough School of Art and St Martins School of Art receiving a BA honours in Painting (1976). She married the artist Stephen West in 1977 and they have 2 sons.

Initially she lived in Whitechapel and had a studio at Butlers Wharf near Tower Bridge. She moved with her family to a derelict farm in Mid-Wales in 1984, converting the barns into studios. She began exhibiting in Wales and at the RA in London, winning the Aberystwyth Open in 1992, the Mostyn Open, the Gold Medal at the National Eisteddfod, the Hunting Observer Art Prize (1993) and second prize at the BP National Portrait Award. She was BBC Wales Visual Artist of the Year 1994.

She exhibited in the 90s in important touring exhibitions such as Disclosure(s) from Oriel Mostyn and one-person exhibitions Blood Ties from Wrexham Arts Centre, Facing the Self from Oriel Mostyn and The Black Cot from Aberystwyth Arts Centre. 

A Creative Wales award from the Arts Council of Wales in 2006 enabled her to realize a long-held ambition to make sculptural automata, kinetic and sound-based versions of childhood memories of the theatre her parents ran in Australia. A further award in 2013 led to the creation of Florilingua, an installation of paint, sound and video collaborating with seven contemporary poets, which formed the centerpiece for her one-person touring exhibition The Rivalry of Flowers showing in Kings Place London, Northumbria University and the organising venue, Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

Two monographs have been published on the artist, The Black Cot Gomer Press 2004 and Rivalry of Flowers Seren Press 2013. A major survey of 30 years work 'Distillation' opened at the National Library of Wales and Cassandra’s Rant at Ceredigion Museum, both in Aberystwyth in 2015 and in the same year Rhys James was artist-in-residence at Columbia University New York. Rhys James received an Honorary Fellowship from Wrexham Glyndŵr University in 2017.

In 2020 ‘Tea on the sofa, Blood on the carpet’ was shown before the Covid-19 lockdown in the Wolfson Gallery at Charleston Trust and she showed two drawings in ‘Dear Christine’ at Arthouse1 in Bermondsey. Also in 2020 works inspired by Bocaccio were part of Flowers on-line show ‘Decameron Re-visited’.

She was represented by Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff from 1992 to 2023 and has been represented by Connaught Brown in Albemarle Street London since 2009, where work made under lockdown was exhibited in ‘Hunan-Ynysu: Self Island’ in 2021. A selected survey of 50 years work was shown in 2023. She continues to work in her studios in Wales and France. Her new show ‘States of Mind’ opened at Connaught Brown in May 2024.

Shani Rhys James


BBC Four
What Do Artists Do All Day?

Shani Rhys James

Shani Rhys James

Automata​ - Work in progress

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