While renovating my tiny kitchen in my Victorian terraced house I came across a patch of 1960s wallpaper behind a panel. It was a boldly coloured floral pattern in acidic shades of blue. I liked it and kept it, framed behind a sheet of perspex. I’m surrounded by remnants of old hearths and chimney breasts that no longer serve a purpose. My living room proudly retains a lead-based paint encrusted sash window.
Therefore I can relate strongly in many ways to Shani Rhys James installation, Florilingua, which was opened to
the public this weekend inside the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. I
enjoy paintings which take on another dimension. Shani Rhys James is one
of Wales’ best known painters, recognised for her giant canvases which
often take her own image as the subject. But Florilingua expands to
take on three dimensions and a sensory explosion of colour, sound and
smell. Ostensibly it purports to speak about the domesticity of the
lives of Victorian women. A bold floral ‘wallpaper’ pattern, painted by
the artist, covers the interior walls of a bunker-like room constructed
in the WMC concourse. From the ceiling hangs a small and suitably sombre
black chandelier (bejewelled with rich red crystals) which illuminates
the room. Poetry in English and Welsh can be heard, while the female
poet’s lips mouth the words from a tiny screen in the middle of the far
Even the solid construction of Shani’s bunker speak about the strength of Victorian domestic architecture. Contrary to Britain’s 19th century vision of male dominance and female subservience, nay invisibility, Florilingua resonates with a strength and depth. The rich yellows and reds are not restrained in any way, while the heady smell of fresh oil paint could render a small child unconscious! Maybe this installation is a physical respresentation of Shani’s multi-facted and opinionated persona (which belies her diminutive stature). I heard more than one person exiting the room commenting that they felt they had just experienced what it was like to walk into the middle of one of Shani’s paintings.
There is something quite incongruous about this unassuming white plywood box on the edge of the vast WMC concourse, but it’s a great setting which emphasises the extremes going on here. If anyone is heading down to Cardiff Bay then go search it out!