By Natasha Ala, for the Redoubt Reporter
It is often said that variety is the spice of life and it seems that Zirrus VanDevere is intent on capturing a zesty breadth of emotions in her work, currently on exhibit at the Corner Café — formerly Mugz Café — in the Blazy Mall in Soldotna.
In this small collection, VanDevere uses a variety of materials and mediums to express a roller coaster of human sensations. This gamut of emotions also is echoed in her choice of titles — “Addiction,” “Freedom,” “Defiance” and “Angel Dew” — all loaded with strong, expressive sentiment.
In this collection, VanDevere has attached found objects to canvas, printed straight photography and explored painting on alternative surfaces. In these dozen or so pieces, VanDevere successfully uses the expressive qualities of her materials to explore a diversity of emotional themes.
In “Thwarted Destiny,” an acrylic painting on a wooden rolltop desk cover, three frisky goats fill the picture frame in a jovial composition reminiscent of the classic Three Muses.
The corrugated surface of the painting adds an element of whimsical fun. The colors are integrated in such a way that the painting is not competing with the unusual surface on which it is applied. Painting on alternative surfaces can present technical and aesthetic challenges for artists but VanDevere successfully merges her art and materials in a way that enhances the fun and whimsical feeling of the piece.
Taking a sharp turn away from lighthearted fun and whimsy, “Two Sides of the Seeker” is a found
object assemblage on canvas, with applications of dark- and light-colored paint. VanDevere has taken what appears to be old family photographs, a bone, a knotted leather rag and an old broken wire mesh rack and attached them to a canvas. The piece has the feeling of a primordial family relic, a recently discovered object that may contain generations of family secrets that had been left to rot in an attic.
It looks aged and decayed. The piece is aesthetically hard to look at, as are many family secrets. Yet despite its grotesqueness I can’t help but be drawn in to look closer, and before I know it my nose is an inch from the surface as I’m scrutinizing the interlaid details, not apparent from a distance.
At close look I see a seductively slumbered young women and the face of a child light up in laughter. Sometimes there are little surprises of beauty buried in what at first glance appears harsh. The dichotomy of emotions this piece elicits in me is what I really enjoy about “Two Sides of the Seeker.”
I frequently hear people say, “I don’t get it,” when they look at a piece of art like “Two Sides of the Seeker,” and they often walk away dismissively. Understanding what artists are trying to say in their artwork can sometimes be like trying to figure out an inside joke — you can’t figure it out because it’s not about you, it’s about the artist.
However, what the viewer brings to the interpretation of the piece is just as valuable as what the artist is working through and trying to express. I encourage viewers to get their nose right up and into “Two Sides of the Seeker” and see what stories it evokes.
Another piece that requires the viewer to get up close is “Angel Dew,” a small (5-by-7-inch), intimate close-up of the face of a young child, printed in high contrast. I enjoy how the high contrast suggests a feeling of innocence, which pretty much captures the essence of this piece for me. The composition is well balanced, with a big triangle form in the lower left foreground. The gaze of the child takes the viewer out the top right corner of the work, creating a solid composition.
The piece that struggles most with its composition for me is “Defiance,” which is a monochromatic, mixed medium painted with an extremely thick substance and is completely symmetrical. If you cut it down the middle both sides look mostly the same.
The very thickly embossed texture of the piece is smooth, white and whips around the canvas like the remains of a heavy snowstorm. Protruding from the center of the canvas is barbed wire, which looks to me like a sturdy weed that isn’t going to let winter take it down. I find the way the shadows form in the recesses of the thick chunks of paint to be very dramatic, making this piece seem more black and gray then white. The emotive content of this piece does, indeed, strongly convey defiance.
VanDevere’s mixed-medium, emotion-packed work will be on exhibit at the Corner Café through February.
Natasha Ala has a bachelor’s degree in art and serves on the board of the Kenai Peninsula Art Guild. Ala also is the executive director of a Kenai Peninsula nonprofit organization.