Theater & Arts

ArtHop preview: From coat hangers to the motion of life

Evany Zirul’s “The Turn” is part of her “Feminizing Steel” exhibit on display through Sept. 27 at Fig Tree Gallery.
Evany Zirul’s “The Turn” is part of her “Feminizing Steel” exhibit on display through Sept. 27 at Fig Tree Gallery. Special to The Bee

Life is movement. As humans, our bodies are often gearing up to go somewhere else. If you were to freeze any one of thousands of our daily motions, you’d capture – if you were lucky – what artist Evany Zirul calls the “moment of change.” She defines it as the interval between balance and movement.

If you achieve that moment in a sculpture, you’ve captured motion itself.

Zirul’s new exhibition at Fig Tree Gallery, titled “Feminizing Steel,” displays some of her latest intricate pieces created with recycled coat hangers. Also included are some of the line drawings that inspired those sculptures.

The show is a highlight of ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods.

We caught up with the retired surgeon by email to talk about the show and how she made the transition from line drawings to three-dimensional forms.

Q: Why the title?

A: So much of contemporary sculpture done in steel is linear, hard plane surfaces or with strong spatial constructs. Using the wire lends to curves, wandering filigree lines and paisleys which are considered by many to be decorative or feminine.

Q: As a surgeon, you spent a great deal of time in meetings, and you liked to spend your time “doodling” in India ink. Do you consider these sculptures a natural progression of those drawings?

A: Due to the restrictive nature of drawing during meetings and concerts, I became adept at using lines to infer color, shading depth and emotion. It would have been impossible to carry in a full palette of colors or paints. My drawing was distracting enough for my fellow meeting attendees in just black and white.

Q: You spent a career intimately familiar with the human body and the ways that it moves. How did that influence your art?

A: I specialized in ears, nose, throat, head and neck surgery because the process of operating and “fixing” broken parts was so close to being an artist. The kind of focus necessary for long, intricate surgeries served me well in having the patience for the intricacies of the wire welding.

Q: Other influences?

A: My sister was a dancer: I loved watching her move. I think she was the greatest influence on my sculpture.

Q: Tell us about your artistic process.

A: The hangers are donated by dry cleaners (Steve Berglund of Mastercraft) and friends. Neighbors drop hangers off at my fence frequently. I process the hangers by cutting them and straightening them into manageable segments. A 40-pound sculpture probably has about 1,200 to 1,500 hangers. I quit counting and go by weight. Each larger sculpture takes me three to five months to create (One sculpture I counted 385 hours), as each weld is individual. There is no mass production involved. My recent work has multiple layers.

Q: This idea of capturing what you call “the moment of change” seems a big challenge because you’re creating a stationary object. Are you able to manipulate your sculptures once you’ve made them to find that perfect moment of change? Do you ever just have to start over because you realize halfway through you haven’t been able to capture that moment?

A: The sculptures are so time consuming because I am constantly correcting the form to match the image I have in my mind. The steel is not very malleable, so I may remove and replace whole sections in order to conform to the pose I want. What works really well in challenging balance is the strength of the steel.

Q: Final thoughts?

A: I have been most lucky to have met wonderful supportive people in Fresno who have helped me in my transition from full time surgeon to artist. Chris Sorensen (at Chris Sorensen Studio) is a fine mentor.

‘Feminizing Steel’

Art preview

  • Opening reception 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3
  • Noon-4 p.m. Fridays-Sundays through Sept. 27
  • Fig Tree Gallery, 644 Van Ness Ave.
  • Fig Tree Gallery on Facebook, (559) 485-0460
  • Free


5-8 p.m. (at most venues) Thursday, Sept. 3

For an updated list of venues and shows, go to