Friday 13 December 2013, 11:37
Back in May I wrote a blog piece about the remarkable Welsh painter Shani Rhys James and her new exhibition The Rivalry of Flowers, which is currently on show at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
The touring exhibition coincides with her 60th birthday year and many of the paintings feature bold floral backdrops which act as a metaphor for how women are often perceived by society.
Now Seren has published a new collection of poems in which seven poets respond to the domestic situations, sense of rootlessness and the relationship between women and home displayed in Shani's paintings.Image: Shani Rhys James
The poets are: Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke, Menna Elfyn, Jasmine Donahaye, Amy Wack, Pele Cox and Patrick Christopher Kavanagh.
Several of Shani's paintings feature a vibrant, oppressive floral wallpaper which seems to engulf the subject of the painting and other objects in the room.
When we spoke back in May she told me that the lurid wallpaper dates back to an unhappy time in her life when she and her mother had just moved to London from Australia, only to be greeted by the Big Freeze of 1962.
They had a tough welcome and ended up living in a bedsit where she clearly remembered flock black and red wallpaper- meant to be luxurious but she perceived it as "grimy and overpowering".Image: Shani Rhys James
The wallpaper patterns that Shani recreates are meant to capture that sense of claustrophobia and in several of her pieces the woman is almost absorbed into the walls and becomes part of the decoration.
After creating the series of paintings Shani decided to give voice to the walls and the women within, by creating an interior three-dimensional space, 8ft square and 8ft high which is adorned with a grotesque and frenzied flower pattern all over the ceiling and walls.
She then asked the poets to write in response to the piece. Sue Jones-Davies then recited their verse, and her mouth was filmed speaking. The recording features as part of the exhibit which is being shown at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
As Shani says: "These poets have given a voice to this silent room, and each has made unique pieces, either from personal experience associative thought, or in response to the recent series of paintings.
"It has been stimulating to collaborate with the poets and I am grateful to them for their poems."Image: Shani Rhys James
In Florilingua (coined by James Joyce and meaning 'Flower Tongue'), Amy Wack and Patrick Christopher Kavanagh respond to the burning yellow wallpaper of one of the paintings as well as the iron bath Shani often features, which was bought for her house in France and she believes is linked to her sense of rootlessness on arriving in the UK.
Gillian Clarke and Menna Elfyn are captivated by the symbolism of white lilies while the bath also holds poetic potency for Menna.
The sense of looming oppression created by a black chandelier forms the inspiration for Jasmine Donayhaye's contributions while Carol Ann Duffy suggested her well-known poem Warming Her Pearls for the installation and collection.
The collection of poems manages to capture that sense of cloying chaos which so intrigues Shani, while reflecting on what the places we live in say about us.
For more about Florilingua visit www.serenbooks.com.