Shani Rhys James, Connaught Brown, London
Mad dashes and flying colours
Wednesday 17 June 2009
If a work of art is too readily enjoyable, a pall of suspicion can hang over it. Perhaps popular means, oh lord, panderingly populist. Similarly, if something plays hard to get, if it's only really understood when some kind of elaborate explanation has been offered in justification of its obscurities – think of much conceptual art, for example – it's easy to overvalue it, and especially if you pride yourself on being more thoughtful than your clownish next-door neighbour.
The Welsh painter Shani Rhys James belongs to the first category. The enormity and the sheer visual seductiveness of her talent hits you full in the face the moment it confronts you. I defy any reader of this newspaper not to be enthralled by her new exhibition of twenty or so oil paintings – even when you are separated from them by the thickness of a robust glass window.
Rhys James paints women – most often herself, sometimes wary, sometimes brashly naked – and she paints still lives, often of fairly ordinary domestic things such as baskets and pots and pans, though in her most recent work she has taken to painting rather elegant bits of French furnishings too – a rather delicately worked rattan-backed chair, for example – and this serves to introduce a new and almost sombrely classicising restraint, if not a certain politesse, into her work.
She often paints the two in combination, playing the inanimate off against the animate. She is a tremendous colourist, and the vases of flowers she paints – her work is full of flowers – have a kind of riotously spiky and rip-roaring energy about them, a bit like those thistles in that poem by Ted Hughes which were always ready to "crackle open under a blue-black pressure". There's something mad, wild and thuggish about this work, such is its total lack of restraint. It seems to be gulping at colour – oranges, flaring reds, yellows – like a cat going hell-for-leather at a great bowl of best Cornish clotted.
She lathers and slathers on the paint with a kind of unrestrained glee. No wonder the eyes of the model are always slightly bulbous with a kind of childish wonderment. They can't really believe their eyes. They can't really believe that the world of flowers is such a carnival for the eyes. And yet there's something else in the way she paints eyes too, something which seems to set the human slightly at odds with what she is surrounded by. The face, often quite small, often peeks out, just off-centre, from behind the jungle of flowers, as if it's not quite worthy, or as if it's not quite up to speed. There's a touch of bewilderment in this female face, a note of self-apology. It's not strutting in the way these flowers and these pots and pans are strutting. Even though it's the brains around these parts, it feels, somehow, less, diminished, just a touch cast adrift. It can't carry off its own identity with the same panache as a flower can.
To 19 June (020 7408 0362; www.connaughtbrown.co.uk )
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
- 5 Largest ever study into the gay gene 'erodes the notion that sexual orientation is a choice'
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Willow and Jaden Smith talk duality of apples, holographic realities and the melancholia of the ocean in incredible New York Times interview
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'