Margaret O’Reilly

Curator of Fine Art, New Jersey State Museum

From ‘Essential Life: Painting and Sculpture by Tricia Zimic’ Catalog


For centuries, artists have depicted animals in scientific, educational and artistic works. Illustrations of animals are universal, found in all cultures throughout the world. In Lascaux, France, paleolithic cave paintings depict figures, geometric images and over 900 animals. Created over 17,300 years ago, a number of theories exist regarding the meaning of the images, including documenting hunts or sharing information on hunting techniques. Egyptians imbued their gods with the spirit of animals and often portrayed them with animal features. Mythical creatures were used by artists of the Middle Ages to decorate illuminated manuscripts. In the 1500s, Albrecht Dürer treated animals as being worthy of his attention, and he created vital portrayals of these subjects. In the 1700s, English artist George Stubbs was known primarily for the paintings of the horses of his aristocratic patrons. In the first half of the 19th century, John James Audubon’s studies and watercolor illustrations formed the basis for The Birds of North America, now considered among the finest ornithological works ever created. More recently, painter Susan Rothenberg and sculptor Deborah Butterfield have created works that show the emotion and power of the horse.


Tricia Zimic (b.1957) studied illustration with Maurice Sendak and sculpture with Frank Giorgini at Parson’s School of Design in New York. After graduation, she began her career in the arts as an illustrator of young-adult books including Nancy Drew (Simon & Schuster) and other classic stories. Later, Zimic studied ceramics at the New Jersey Center of Visual Arts in Summit and painting at the Arts Students League in New York. In a 2009 interview, Zimic was asked when her interest in ecology became integral to her work. She answered, “As I started a reforestation project in the South Mountain Reservation (in Maplewood, NJ where she lives), I needed to learn as much as possible in order to bring harmony back to the reservation… I wanted my art to show just how bizarre it would be if our native animals actually came back to their lost habitat. I would like the people of New Jersey to slow down urban and suburban sprawl and think about what we are taking away from the smaller creatures before we start to build. My work in this series (Essential Life) is not meant to be taken literally, but instead is meant to make a point about what we have done to our lands and how we have displaced the native wildlife inhabitants.”


Zimic’s paintings and sculpture offer viewers an introduction to the importance of habitat, shelter and native plants to the survival of wild animals. She thoroughly researches each animal she depicts, ensuring that she faithfully captures their physical and behavioral characteristics. Then, from paint or clay, she builds the environments in which these creatures are forced to live. The resulting works evoke empathy, build awareness and promote activism.


However, it should be noted that in addition to the message found within the pieces, these are also fully realized works of art which continue the tradition of artists depicting the natural world dating back thousands of ears. Like the artists who preceded her, Zimic is using art to impart knowledge while also providing an extraordinary aesthetic experience.