2012 Biennial UTEP Faculty show

The 2012 UTEP Department of Art Biennial Faculty Exhibition at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts in El Paso ends today. Gallery director Kate Bonansinga always attracts excellent curators for the show. This year’s choice, Gwen F. Chanzit, Ph.D., is Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Herbert Bayer collection and Archive at the Denver Art Museum.

My paintings employ fake versions of nature as a way of examining our relationship to nature and the manufactured world we live in. What does it tell us about ourselves that we are often more familiar with chocolate or ceramic bunnies than the real thing? How many of us have ever held a live rabbit and felt is speeding heartbeat?

Titian’s Rabbit
Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

The landscape background  in Titian’s Rabbit derives from Titian’s Madonna with a rabbit, but relies on common houseplants for its imagined jungle scenario.

Gallery director, Kate Bonansinga writes:
Chocolate rabbits are indulgent and sweet. Jean Wilkey portrays this one larger than life in a stylized landscape that looks like one by the late 19th century French painter Henri Rousseau, where flowers, leaves and grasses are verdant and mature. Rousseau romanticized foreign lands such as Tahiti in order to capture a spirit of innocence. Wilkey instead romanticizes the cheap chocolate found on supermarket shelves. She idealizes this familiar piece of merchandise just as Rousseau idealized non-European locales. By doing so she pokes fun at his objectification of the unfamiliar.

Homage to Henri: French Chocolate
Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

I was fascinated with Henri Rousseau’s attempt to realistically portray a jungle scene using plants at a botanical exhibit. The manmade botanical jungle was itself an artificial arrangement mimicking a natural setting and therefore was once removed from reality. Rousseau’s painted reproduction of this setting becomes twice removed from a real jungle. He attempted to reproduce reality, but his stylization was more a lush pattern than realism.  In my own work, appropriation of his imagery becomes reality thrice removed, in the best Platonic tradition, and underlines a distancing of modern life from nature.

For information and upcoming shows, see the gallery website.