Melissa Zink, an artist of profound and extraordinary work, originally in “pottery,” died Friday (July 17), in Taos. She was 77.
“Pottery. That’s like calling Marlon Brando an impersonator,” Parks Gallery owner Stephen Parks wrote in a 1979 publication of High Country Profile, about his first encounter with Zink’s work.
“Melissa Zink — remember that name …” Parks and wife Joni Tickel, opened their gallery specifically to honor Melissa Zink’s genius, and for many years her exclusive gallery representative has been Parks Gallery in Taos.
They have been fast friends since Parks’ review of Zink’s very first show at the old Clay and Fiber gallery in Taos. Born in Kansas City, Mo., Zink was educated at Emma Willard School, in Troy, N.Y.; Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.; University of Chicago, and Kansas City Art Institute.
In 2000 she was honored by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., as the New Mexico representative in their “From the States” exhibition. In 2001 she was the recipient of the State of New Mexico’s “Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts.”
In 2006 a major retrospective of her work was presented in 2006 at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, and that same year the book, “Melissa Zink, The Language of Enchantment,” by Hollis Walker, was published by New Mexico Magazine Press.
“Many artists fall short because they lack the technical skill or the intellect or the heart to create the art they envision,” Hollis Walker wrote from her Berkeley home in California, Monday (July 20). “Melissa Zink had all three in great measure, and that’s what made her work so powerful. I always felt great anticipation before she unveiled a new series; I couldn’t wait to see where she would next turn. And I was always surprised. On a personal note, Melissa was an incredible role model to me, and she was unfailingly kind and supportive of my endeavors.”
Zink’s early experience with the historically male-dominated art world makes her ascendancy all the more remarkable.
“She was a great inspiration to other artists, women in particular who knew her story,” Parks said. “Discouraged by the Kansas City Art Institute because she wasn’t doing abstract expression, she went 20 years doing very little art, though obviously working in her head all those years. After she met and married her second husband, Nelson Zink, he asked her one evening, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ She pulled the covers over her head and whispered, ‘I want to be an artist.’ She was in her early 40s. There haven’t been enough hours in the day since.”
Zink expounded on her misperception of her talent to Hollis Walker in an interview for the New Mexico Magazine monograph.
“I felt I was not gifted, and had never understood that I could develop skill, that one doesn’t have to be born with it.” She always said of her work: “I make what I love — museums, magically sealed containers, animals, pots, secrets, surprises, the history of people.”
Her paintings, sculpture and mixed-media works, much of which was inspired by her great love of books and what she termed the “book experience,” has exhibited in galleries and museums around the country and is included in many prestigious public and private collections.
“Melissa’s oeuvre is universal and exemplified her devotion to creativity, for to have been immersed in such beauty, was to be fully alive,” said Erión Y. Simpson, Taos Art Museum and Fechin House Executive Director, Monday afternoon. “In Melissa’s art we can see she loved every minute of her profession."
“Melissa was a magnificent and dynamic individual, with a talent unequaled in comparison, and she shall stand as one of the most significant artists of her time,” Simpson concluded. She was “one of the most prominent New Mexico artists of the last 30 years,” Parks said. “I don’t know what else to say — she was so talented in so many ways, a fabulous painter, sculptor and mixed media artist … She thought of artists as falling into two categories, miners and explorers, and she was an explorer.”
As Zink said: “The center I have been circling around and around is a private aesthetic formed from books and by books … “That aesthetic developed from the act of reading, the memories of reading, the literal companionship of books, the enchantments of photography, typography, graphic design, paper, leather, etc. Everything I find most beautiful and moving is in some way connected to books.”
An exhibition of her art, “Melissa Zink: Her Singular World,” opening Sept. 18 in Fechin’s Studio, shall be a tribute in her memory.
Melissa Zink leaves her husband, Nelson Zink of Taos, a daughter, Mallery Downs and husband Robert of Albuquerque and a grandson, Christopher Downs, of Denver.
To see Zink’s work, visit parksgallery.com.