Shani Rhys James

Shani Rhys James MBE was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1953 and moved to Wales with her family when she was a child. She would go on to become one of the country’s most original and exciting painters, winning the prestigious Jerwood Prize, the Welsh Woman in Culture Award in 2003 and an MBE for her services to art in 2006. She works mainly in oils and uses thick, textured brushstrokes to depict both her still lifes, portraits and her domestic scenes.

The scene depicted in ‘Chicken Coop II’ is fairly ordinary – a child has been interrupted while playing with her dolls. But it is also suffocating and hellish. The innocence of the primary colour palette is corrupted by dark streaks of paint. The figure’s flesh tones are bright and lurid, almost raw.

As in many of her other paintings, Rhys James gives her subject her own facial features; the figure seems ageless, at once a parent and child. The painting’s title reminds us of feeling of entrapment of co-habiting with one’s family; the child is trapped by her familial relationships, as well as by the painting’s frame.