Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

A journey of healing

VanDevere mixes shape, color and dimension in emotional show

Spinal injuries, a painful marriage and the loss of her father have defined much of the past decade of Zirrus VanDevere’s personal life. Now, she’s decided to turn that strife into art.

Her three-dimensional, multi-textured, mixed-media collection, called “A Life Repurposed,” is on display at the Kenai Art Center, and it chronicles VanDevere’s emotional and physical journey of healing.

“In a lot of ways, this show feels like a victory for me because it’s what I’ve always done and what I’ve always cared about doing,” she said. “I’m just about as happy as I can be when I’m creating art.”

VanDevere is originally from upstate New York, but moved to Alaska in 1988 after college.

Her spinal injuries began when she got into a car accident when she was 21 years old and four months pregnant, and became exacerbated after she slipped and fell on ice outside the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.

In the three and a half years, VanDevere said she had four different back surgeries and multiple medical fusions.

She moved back to New York in 2012 to care for her father at the end of his life, and married one of her dad’s nurses who she said turned out to be unstable, and a “serial abuser.”

“I was hiding out in Rochester, waiting for my fourth back surgery,” VanDevere said. “I did it under a Jane Doe name.”

In 2018 she found her way back to Alaska, after her father died and after she left her marriage. She said coming back both provided her a safe haven and inspired her creatively.

“(I) spent a bunch of time licking my wounds and healing in the woods and being happy that I was near family,” VanDevere said.

Alex Rydlinski, the executive director of the Kenai Art Center, said VanDevere’s artistic process makes her work unique.

“I think Zirrus is kind of a one-of-a-kind,” he said. “There’s some found objects, there’s paint and photographs and thread and all kinds of things that she’s put together.”

VanDevere’s pieces range in texture, size, material, color and medium.

“She’s the kind of artist that’s focused on the making; it’s the process more than the final result,” Rydlinski said.

One of VanDevere’s pieces in the exhibition, called “Home runs through my heart like a river,” broadcasts a monochrome series of watershed photographs on a light box. She said the pictures, all taken along the Kenai River, represent the home she’s made for herself in Alaska.

“It was a very, very sweet reunion with the river and with just the stark beauty of this area,” VanDevere said. “And it was pretty poignant for me, how thankful I was that I had come home.”

Another piece features a figure lifting themselves from the inside of a small bird cage, away from the wasp nest that rests at the bottom. It’s one of three works of art in the show titled “Leaving the past behind me.”

“They all relate to that scenario with a dangerous person,” VanDevere said. “I had to process all this stuff.”

The 55-year-old said the residual effects of her injuries make it harder for her to create larger showcases like this anymore, but VanDevere said she still cherishes the creative outlet. She said she works from home now, so she’s able to take breaks and rest when needed.

“It just gives me special meaning to be able to complete the show,” VanDevere said. “But I do have to kind of admit that it could be my last showing.”

That won’t stop her, she said, from producing meaningful pieces.

“I will keep creating art, because I think a true artist is someone who creates artwork whether anybody’s going to see it or not,” VanDevere said.

An opening reception for her collection “A Life Repurposed” will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Kenai Art Center. Masks are encouraged per COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and light refreshments will be served.

The exhibition will be available to view at the center through the month of January.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

Zirrus VanDevere’s pieces are displayed at the Kenai Art Center on Jan. 4, 2022. (Courtesy Alex Rydlinski)

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