Rhys James takes art's richest prize for her 'human content'

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The Independent Online

The Welsh artist Shani Rhys James has won the £30,000 Jerwood Prize for her "colourfully and powerfully expressed" self-portraits.

Rhys James was named yesterday ahead of more established artists on the painting prize shortlist, including John Hoyland, John Wonnacott and Marc Vaux.

The award, presented to Rhys James by the Welsh actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones in London, was not the first recognition for the Australian-born artist. She is already the recipient of a number of prizes including the Mostyn Open, the Gold Medal of the National Eisteddfod, the Hunting Prize, the BBC Wales Visual Art Award, and second prize in the 1994 BP National Portrait Award.

Her work is already represented in some of Britain's leading collections, including the Arts Council of England and the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.

Rhys James was born in Australia in 1953. Thirty years later she moved to the land of her father, Wales, where she has made her home and built her reputation.

Her pictures have no obvious Welsh context, and instead rely on an effective combination of memories and emotions associated with her earlier life, transmuted by her imagination.

The Jerwood Prize aims to "identify, celebrate and highlight the range of excellence and imagination in painting in the UK".

The judging panel comprised David Jaffe, Norbert Lynton, Martin Gayford, Duncan Robinson and Griff Rhys Jones. Mr Lynton, an art historian, described the shortlisted works as "like drops of rain in a dry season".

The shortlist was drawn from 400 entries. Equally composed of men and women, the list included figurative and non-figurative works, with artists employing such diverse methods as Hoyland's Shoot-outs with acrylic paint, Alison Watt's skills with oils, and Vaux's nitrocellulose and acrylic on MDF.

The judges said: "We had a detailed and robust discussion about each artist. Finally we chose Shani Rhys James for her vigorous application of paint and the human content of her work."