Nesting Instinct – a review, by Becky Hendrick

Nesting Instinct is one of two featured solo shows inaugurating the new online gallery, UNFRAMED.  I’m very grateful to Becky Hendrick for taking time to review the work. You can visit the show without spending gas money and no need to don nice clothes, by visiting  I hope you enjoy the review which I’ve also posted below. Prints of the works are also available through the site. The show runs through the end of December.

Nest with Ferrero Rocher, oil on panel, 6x6 in, Jean Reece Wilkey
Nest with Ferrero Rocher, oil on panel, 6×6 in, Jean Reece Wilkey

Nesting Instinct – a review

If you’re paying serious attention these days, it’s no secret that art — like literature, publishing, journalism, social interaction, you name it! — is changing, has changed right out from under us. So artists who insist on cutting the edge now perform, install, make things that are immaterial and impermanent, dissolve boundaries between media and genres; it’s a new world.

That makes looking at and talking about the work of Jean Wilkey a bit problematic; it’s been a while since I’ve even thought about straightforward painting of the realist sort. Not photo-realism, that’s still with us since the lens’ view is a subject worth considering. Wilkey, though, is rare among painters, taking skill — call it talent if you want, since there’s a healthy dose of that, too — to an extraordinary level in small still life renderings. Nary a brushstroke is visible. Not a whit of personal expression is on display. These little paintings demand close-up scrutiny and reward the viewer with head-shaking awe.

Nested Chrome, 12x12 in, oil on panel, Jean Reece Wilkey
Nested Chrome, 12×12 in, oil on panel, Jean Reece Wilkey

Art departments in many progressive universities are riding the Postmodern tide and eliminating (or at least de-emphasizing) traditional drawing and painting in favor of new genres: video, sound, performance, etc. Jean Wilkey’s work goes against that tide and stuns us with their crisp perfection. There is humor in some — “Usurped” —, dark humor in others —“Nested Chrome” —, and plain old-fashioned psychological darkness in others — “Repose.”   What elevates these paintings above “mere” talent and skill is her peculiar choice of subject matter, combining Victorian collectibles and other bric-a-brac with fruit and bird nests. She applies her sharp eye and sure brush to brushy nests, peaches and apricots, then an apple appears and one thinks: Magritte? And the questioning begins.

Usurped, 12x12 in, oil on panel, Jean Reece Wilkey
Usurped, 12×12 in, oil on panel, Jean Reece Wilkey

Are there underlying messages and references in these quirky compositions? Are the odd arrangements intentional, arbitrary, conscious, metaphoric, symbolic? But then one studies the images again and remembers one is looking at paint, and all those questions are put on hold while the primary question — how the heck does she DO this??? — takes over.

Sometimes paintings and other art works don’t quite make the transition from “reality” to “virtual”, and others are too easily manipulated and adjusted (skill and talent now being what program to use, what button to push) that their digital images falsify the material “thing.” Wilkey may be one of the rare artists whose work does translate to the screen without too much loss.  And that will be our gain.

– – Becky Hendrick, La Union NM

Becky Hendrick is an artist, writer and educator. A painter for more than 40 years, with works in many private and museum collections, Hendrick recently retired from the Department of Art at the University of Texas at El Paso. She hosts the Border Artist Residency in La Union, New Mexico and with her husband, sculptor Willie Ray Parrish, divides her time between the borderland of Texas/new Mexico and Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico.

Hendrick’s books of art criticism and art appreciation are available on I posted previously about her art appreciation book.

For more information about her visit: