Melissa Mink is an artist, using her creativity, talent and passion to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s. Sarah Mackenzie caught up with Melissa to find out more about her inspiration, and how art can be a vessel for advocacy.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a proud Korean Puerto Rican melting pot. Born in Seoul, Korea, adopted by my Puerto Rican and Austrian family at 8 weeks old. My dad was stationed in Okinawa when my parents decided to adopt. My mom always told me that my dad saw me and knew I was his daughter to be. Even though I am adopted, my dad and I had a connection. We laughed at the same jokes, loved the same movies, both were perfectionists and both loved unconditionally. I think these similarities in our personality created a bond that I’ve grown to love and express in my artwork. He was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s at a young age and the only way I could cope with it was through my art. I became a student and an advocate for Alzheimer’s Awareness.
I thought I’d be a marine biologist but soon came back to my passion, which was art. I graduated from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with a concentration in Graphic Design. I knew being a traditional artist painting or drawing full-time wouldn’t pay the bills so I quickly found art in the tech world and have been a digital artist for a bit over 18 years with hopes to be a full-time traditional artist someday.
Your work encompasses a lot of pen and ink drawings, why do think you find yourself returning to this medium so regularly?
I like the cleanliness of pen and ink. And not to mention the fact that you can draw anywhere. Drawing was and still is an outlet. Pen and ink is my go to when I need a bit of art therapy or if I have a spare moment. I’ll always have a sketchbook and a couple (if not a hoarding amount of pens) with me.
Most of your human-form pieces are female orientated, is this a conscious decision?
Absolutely. I had been going through some difficult times and in a way, she started as a representation of me and what I was going through. She quickly grew into something more than just my thoughts or my expressions. I wanted her to become universal. I thought, I can’t be the only woman feeling these feelings.
Many of your pen and ink drawings have an unpredictable and somewhat haunting quality about them. Has your style always come naturally, or have you worked on it?
Thank you, that is what I hope to convey with my art. I’ve drawn since I was a young girl. However, not sure that I can say my figure has always been exactly who she was meant to be in my earlier works. But then again we all grow and evolve and become a newer version of ourselves don’t we? So, yes it comes naturally, but I also have to work on it.
Are there any artists that influence/inspire your work?
I’ve always loved Frida Kahlo. She was such a strong woman and didn’t paint or draw only the happy parts of life, she was real. She was raw and gave us a glimpse into her life, the good and the bad. I respected that. Also, Salvador Dali is a favourite of mine. I love that you can always see more even after you’ve looked at one of his paintings for hours. There is always more to the story than just what you see in the painting initially.
You included a ‘what do the drawings mean’ booklet in one of your recent shows, which was so well received that you added these descriptions to your Etsy site. Why do you think people were so keen to see read your own interpretations?
I hope that people connect with the emotion and the story after having read the interpretations/descriptions. I didn’t allow people to know what the composition meant or what I was thinking while creating the piece. I really wanted people to have their own take on what they were looking at. I had mentioned the meaning of a drawing one day to my husband. And he said, “Oh you need to make that available to people. Maybe not every detail but this is so good that you have to share it when you share your art.” I think that if there are approximately 5.7million people with Alzheimer’s and around 16 million family members caring for them with little to no knowledge of this disease, we have to start the conversation and provide an informed view of what happens both medically and more importantly, what happens emotionally through this journey.
Your personal links to Alzheimer’s has driven you to incorporate the topic into a lot of your work. With so many text heavy resources available, what do you think that art brings to the table that writing might struggle with when generating awareness?
Living with or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is something that no one wants to read about. And to be honest, there are only a handful of books out there that actually help you cope with the emotions, the daily struggles and demands on relationships that come from being a wife, a daughter, a sister, a niece or a friend in this position. Personally, I’ve seen so many women struggle with the demands that society put on us. Ultimately, they become demands that we put on ourselves – at least I did. I felt the need as a female to be everything to everyone, handle everything for everyone and to do all this with a smile on my face. I was claiming that it wasn’t a burden to bear, that the feelings and emotions of losing a father to Alzheimer’s never brought me down. I handled this, my job, my marriage, my duties as the oldest daughter and my duties as a good girl friend to my friends. Did you know that approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women? More specifically, over one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters. (source: alz.org)
Many instantly struggle with the feelings. Even though this disease kills more people than Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer combined, people still don’t talk about it. People still don’t know where to turn, people automatically feel alone in this journey. It’s like it’s a family’s dirty secret. Don’t get me wrong, we are finding more and more people advocating awareness. But we aren’t where we need to be. Art has always been my outlet and my introverted way to connect with people and tell my story without having to stand on a stage and shout it. I hope that my art helps connect with others. In the past, some of my pieces actually sparked a conversation. I’ve had shows where people would talk to me about the feelings they got when they saw a particular piece and before I knew it, we were talking, comparing notes and then tearing up and hugging. It was everything I hoped it to be.
With titles such as ‘The Secret Shine’, ‘Don’t give up’, and ‘My Onus’, you’re not afraid to address difficulties that women experience on a day to day basis. What do you hope to achieve by incorporating this into your drawings?
I hope that other women can relate and can draw strength from these drawings. We all go through difficult times. We all have something. I want others to know that you will get through this and you are stronger than you think. You can handle it and you can and will be happy.
Art can sometimes be an easier way to introduce a thought process without sounding ‘preachy’ or imposing. Why do you think that we often struggle so much to share our difficulties with others?
I think it’s because we feel vulnerable if we share our difficulties, our failures, our true deep dark and stormy self. But I think that women have so many sides of ourselves that there’s no way that I’m the only one that carries these difficulties or have the “deep darks”. Maybe we struggle to communicate because we all have these and no one wants to hear them, kinda like if I talk about this, the response I get will be something like, “you’re preach’n to the choir sister!” I feel art can be a release and I just do it without worry or fear of the response.
How can people find out more about your work and Alzheimer’s support?
- Next Show: Richmond, VA First Fridays, details here
- Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/mmminx
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melissa.minkowski
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mink3m/
Great Alzheimer’s Support/Informational Links and books:
Images supplied by artist
Sarah Mackenzie is travel writer and marketing professional based in Edinburgh, Scotland. With 39 countries under her belt, her personal work focuses on vegan budget travel, alongside eco and women’s awareness topics. She also writes for online interview magazine 5minuteswith.