“Women in the Arts,”
(a publication of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.)
Melissa Zink’s Magical Array
Melissa Zink is a restless artist. She is not content to stay in one medium. To create her small, dimensional works, she combines painting, sculpture, and even computer-generated imagery and all kinds of disparate yet related materials – old book bindings, fabric, weathered wood, sticks, and roots. She also moves back and forth through history like a time traveler. For a while, her works evoked the England of Virginia Woolf and Edith Sitwell. Right now, she is drawn to late-Renaissance Flanders, charmed by the likes of Pieter Breugel. She is, in fact, “passionately attached to classic art” and revels in juxtaposing it with the modern. “How do you make (classic art) over again? How do you make it now?” she asks. That she has known the answer for some time is evident in the power of her evocative, surrealistic works.
Her personal aesthetic, which she discovered some years ago, is driven by another passion: books, not only their physical form – paper, text, pictures, leather bindings – but also their role in the act of reading. “I want to make something which elicits from me… the same response from seeing as from reading,” she says. One way she achieves this is by playing on their dimensionality. Zink’s works are like miniature sets, complete with actors and a few cryptic props. By making it “impossible to see the whole at once,” she can create a “looking-at-a-book experience… That is, the viewer looks at one, … then another image, just as one reads another page and sees another mental picture… And with each new image, another feeling.”
Zink’s two- and three-dimensional works often include actual pages, images (especially portraits), and bindings from old volumes. These, along with other carefully chosen materials, surround the figures and faces that serve as her protagonists. Though her characters’ faces are occasionally recognizable, most are nonspecific: some are intriguing faces found in old books; others are pure invention, composites created on her computer and then rendered with a classical oil-glaze technique to give them an Old World luminosity.
In Volume 7: Illuminations from a Dark Wood, cottonwood bark composes the elongated body of one figure; on another side, faces and hands eerily emerge from the plane’s surface. The effect is unsettling, a response in keeping with the source of the work’s title – the first canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which the poet describes being lost in a dark forest.
By embracing a range of materials, textures, and colors, Zink triggers associations and creates meaning in her works. However discordant such imagery seemingly appears, a pleasing and often beautiful visual logic prevails. “The magic is in the array,” Zink once stated in an essay in Taos Magazine,
likening the effect of her diverse imagery to the enchantment of a fabric store’s profusion of patterns and textures. Sometimes, Zink notes, offering her personal spin on Mies van der Rohe’s famous quote, “More is more.”