Shani Rhys James |What do Artists do all day?

Have you ever wondered? The recent BBC Four art series offers stimulating answers and draws intimate portraits of the daily lives and work of leading artists.

In the episode I just watched, Shani Rhys James, who is described as one of the most exciting and successful Welsh painters of her generation but is actually Australian (born in Melbourne in 1953), lets us in her 17th-century house and barn in Llangadfan, mid-Wales, which she shares with her husband Stephen West – also an artist.

Over a cup of  coffee, which our hostess grinds manually in our presence, we watch her preparing for an exhibition in Aberystwyth, talking about her latest obsession with flock wallpaper, her childhood memories and first impressions of London, her mother who was an actress – now in her ’80s, her inspirations, fears  and pre-occupations, her work – her life.




Shani Rhys James, Head 05 no.2 (2005). Three self portraits.

”Concepts; My desire is to produce powerful, emotional paintings which are read for their content, their colour and their abstract elements. I have to be emotionally and mentally taken over by my paintings. They are seemingly direct; I paint about the studio, the kitchen, the artist, my children, childhood memories, so imaginative and observational elements co-exist in each work”. – Shani Rhys James


Shani Rhys James, Yellow Wallpaper I (2011)


Shani Rhys James, Skinny Rib (2012). The Artist’s mother in a 60s top with a large bouquet of white lilies on a red flock wallpaper background.


Shani Rhys James, The Hand Mirror (1996)


Shani Rhys James, Red Ground II (2014)

This painting was but a bright red background when the episode started. We watched the little girl’s head hesitantly taking shape, while the  Artist pondered how the background should be filled. In the end she decided to keep it monochrome but the episode ended before we could see the finished work.

It is on display from 7 June to 7 September 2014 at the Dean Clough Gallery in Halifax and on the BBC website.

Shani Rhys James is represented by the Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff. More of her work can be viewed on Axisweb.

What do Artists do all day? series is available on YouTube by Art Documentaries.



4 thoughts on “Shani Rhys James |What do Artists do all day?

    • Glad you liked it! I really enjoyed this intimate look into the artist’s world – it’s through such little portraits one gets an idea about the artist’s personality and, consequently, a better appreciation of their work. Fascinating to see them in action. 🙂

    • She has a very distinctive manner, doesn’t she? Witnessing the creation of the little girl through the artist’s eyes, the first hesitant ”trial” brushes, her coming back to check on it in the middle of the night, was so interesting and indeed enlightening!

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