Melissa Zink

Melissa Zink: A World of Words and Pictures

As an artist, Melissa Zink’s career got off to a rocky start. A shy but brilliant student, she was cowed in the 1950s by a prestigious art school into believing that if she didn’t produce abstract expressionism, she had no future as an artist. So for nearly 20 years she worked on the fringes of art – designing custom frames, operating a shop that specialized in embroidery and other crafts – while privately painting and drawing and thinking about art. Then, in her early 40s, fate interceded and introduced her to Nelson Zink. She divorced her first husband and married Nelson who soon after asked, “If you could be anything you wanted, what would it be?” Her response: “I want to be an artist.”

Fulfilling another life-long dream, she and Nelson moved to Taos which she had visited as a young girl and remembered as a magical place. As she later wrote: “Taos is a community where art is important both economically and socially. I don’t think that it’s visible in my work, but that doesn’t indicate a lack of importance. Surrounded by beauty and nurtured by the culture, I have been able to concentrate on my inner landscape – because of all the gifts of this remarkable environment.”

Here she quickly established herself as a leading artist in the region. Her earliest work was enchanted, ceramic scenes that met with immediate success. But Zink was a restless artist, blessed with enormous skills, and soon she began combining painting and sculpture and later added collage, print-making and bronze sculpture to her arsenal of media. As she once said, “I divide artists into two categories, miners and explorers. The miners go deeper and deeper into a fairly narrow vein of subjects and techniques, while the explorers are looking for new and exciting ways to express themselves. I’m definitely an explorer.” Throughout her career, though, her primary source of inspiration was what she termed “the book experience,” and it ranged from literal story-telling to expressions of her nearly spiritual regard for words and typefaces, old, foxed papers, illustrations and bindings.

Zink’s early rejection of the Art Canons of the 1950s might well be regarded a blessing. It enabled her to find her own way, to create a totally original body of work, fueled by a most unusual passion, books. Her work, which is in major museum and private collections across the country, remains immensely popular and she is widely regarded as among the finest artists to come out of the Southwest in a generation. Personally and aesthetically, she’s been an inspiration to scores of younger women striving to be artists.

In 2000 she was awarded the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. At the awards presentation, she said: “To the observer, mine appears an ordinary enough existence with little to distinguish it from uncountable others. But an observer cannot know the journeys I’ve made, the lives I’ve lived, the intensities of joy and anguish I have experienced. Nor can that observer know how the everyday complexity of life shines with unfathomable beauty or how the difficulty of expressing that experience becomes overwhelming. That same observer has no way of knowing that I have found permanent shelter in a world constructed from the experience of words and pictures, a world full of marvels, terrors and delights that becomes more real from one day to the next. A world I hope to vanish into someday.”

Melissa Zink died in 2009 at the age of 77.

Source and Author: Steve Parks, Parks Gallery,

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