Melinda Miles, who moved to Santa Fe from the Los Angeles area in 1980, described her own work as a “meditation on our passage through time.” Now, on a cold, sunny December afternoon, Sarah McCarty and Eric Thomson sit inside Argos Gallery amid a quiet aura of that same notion, between them the book they wrote and edited together about their friend Melinda Miles.
It was at Argos that Miles’ last exhibition was shown.
McCarty met Miles in Eli Levin’s sketch group in the years just after they both arrived in Santa Fe. Both realists and still-life painters, Miles and McCarty soon became, and remained, close friends. Gallery director Thomson also became familiar with Miles in the same fashion, though he met her when her work appeared in a show for the drawing group in his Canyon Road space. About a year before Miles died, Thomson agreed to be her art executor without even knowing “it was of any imminent concern.”“She kept impeccable archives of her work,” Thomson says, a habit that Miles began when she started her art career. McCarty nods, “She left everything in beautiful order.” From that order came Melinda Miles: Passages (published by Fresco Books), the first book to be published about Miles and her work. Passages creates a timeline of paintings, drawings and etchings from throughout Miles’ career and shows a side of the newly-blossomed art center that was Santa Fe in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
The narrative reveals Miles as both typical of that time in Santa Fe and an extraordinary artist.
When Miles passed away in 2009, McCarty and Thomson didn’t realize that being her executors would involve such a large project. But after a posthumous exhibit of Miles’ later work, also organized by the pair, McCarty says, “We couldn’t stop. The book needed to be done. Her story needed to be told because we have great respect for her work.”
Both McCarty and Thomson agree that the book itself, with its elegant minimalism, aligns beautifully with Miles’ aesthetic sensibilities. They appear to have taken on Miles’ perfectionism to ensure color accuracy, a major challenge when working with “35mm slides taken throughout her career, in varying lights, on different cameras and lenses,” explains Thomson. “She sold essentially everything she made available to the public,” so these slides were the only tangible records that remained of many pieces.
At its core, Thomson says the book is, “an attempt to create an accessible record of Miles’ work,” and allow both her and her work to be seen. “We think of her as an artist who accomplished something very serious, very coherent, and worth knowing about.” This collection of Miles’ art, while populated by minimal pieces, is alive with what Thomson calls “very clear threads: the ephemerality of life, and how important it is when we leave something of ourselves behind.”
To celebrate Passages, Collected Works Bookstore hosts a book signing with Thomson and McCarty on Saturday, Dec. 28. Though Miles’ work can be found all over the nation, “she had many friends here in Santa Fe,” Thomson says, and to reflect that, the event is set to feature an open discussion about Miles and her work.
The signing also doubles as an exclusive opportunity to get a box set of Passages, which comes with a slate blue linen cover and includes a limited edition etching that was never released by Miles. Only 24 of the 35 box sets remain, McCarty says, adding that proceeds from the set go directly to the book’s production costs.
“It was an amazing amount of work,” she says of the process, “but worth it.”
Thomson and McCarty say they learned a lot and made great partners on the project, though neither is ready to jump back into publishing. However, they don’t regret the journey. “It was something that we felt we needed to do for her,” says McCarty. “We only thought about the act of doing it.”
Melinda Miles: Passages
3 pm Saturday, Dec. 28. Free
Collected Works, 202 Galisteo St.,