An interview with Zeal Eva, a Distillery Artist in Residence | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

An interview with Zeal Eva, a Distillery Artist in Residence

click to enlarge An interview with Zeal Eva, a Distillery Artist in Residence
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Zeal Eva
Artist Vania Evangelique adopted the name Zeal Eva when she was about 19 after a disagreement with the person she was dating.

“I was telling my partner at the time about this art idea that I had for an exhibit, and he was, like, ‘Hey, you're being really overzealous, this is too much work.’ And so I dumped him and I was, like, ‘Huh, that's like a nice word. ... What does it mean?’” she says.

After looking up the definition of overzealous, she found that the root of the word is “zeal,” meaning “to be in strong pursuit of,” and so combining that with the first three letters of her middle name, she came to be Zeal Eva: to be in strong pursuit of herself.

To Eva, part of that definition means growing into the artistic styles and mediums she chooses to work in. She says she only seriously began to pursue art in 2018 after graduating from college and officially moving to Pittsburgh.

Eva recently became part of the Brew House Association’s 2021-2022 Distillery Artist in Residence Program, along with Tara Fay Coleman, Samira Mendoza, Juliandra Jones, Darrin Milliner, Lizzee Solomon, and Jessica Alpern Brown.

Eva’s work primarily focuses on photography, with absolutely stunning portraits of people, usually in natural, green space. While she photographs a variety of people, her portraits of Black people are what really catches the eye. She also paints and has recently been experimenting in other mediums, and says she hopes to use the Distillery residency as an outlet to pursue more techniques.

The Distillery program started at Brew House in 2006, and has been going strong with cohorts of talented artists ever since. Eva is part of the 12th group of artists who has graced the space.

Natalie Sweet, Brew House’s program director, says Distillery “aims to support emerging artists by providing them with the space and tools to strengthen their artistic voices and gain a better understanding on how to navigate working as a professional in the field.”

“It's always exciting to have a new batch of artists with fresh energy come into the program, but one of the things I find particularly compelling about this incoming cohort is that they are bringing really varied accomplishments and experiences that are largely from outside of academic institutions,” says Sweet. “So, in that way, it feels like it's a group of artists that have already been practicing carving their own paths, and that makes me eager to see how they’ll continue to push the boundaries in their artwork over the next year.”

Eva says the Distillery opportunity was in the making for a while. After being part of Brew House’s 2020 Lost & Found exhibition, she became close with Sweet.

“She would tell me about the program and later, I got commissioned to photograph the cohort before last and take their portraits and stuff. And I'm, like, ‘Oh wow, this is something I can do. Like, this is a nice gig, but I would like to have a residency here. That'd be neat,’” she says.

After looking into the program further and watching cohorts she photographed work in the space, she decided to apply.

At the time, she was applying to many other residencies, both in and outside of Pittsburgh, and receiving a lot of rejections. She says her goal was to get a residency at 25 years old, so her acceptance into the Distillery program was a welcome surprise.

“When she called me and told me I got accepted, I forgot that I applied to the residency, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is a fun surprise. I didn't know I would get this.’ So I was really happy, but part of me didn't think I would get it because I was getting turned down so much for other residences outside of Pittsburgh, too,” she says.

Eva credits much of her art career to early and recent mentors, including Sarah Gilmer from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and DS Kinsel of BOOM Concepts. She heavily emphasizes the impact of Pittsburgh artist Natiq Jalil, who has been her mentor since 2016. Together, they are a part of a collective called The Coloured Section, which hosts shows every Thursday or Friday at The Corner in the Hill District.

While portraiture is one of her favorite modes of making art, Eva believes the residency offers the potential for her to try new things in addition to expanding on her current talents, and notes she’s been experimenting with aluminum foil sculpture.

“I'm hoping that it looks like I took risks during this residency, like it looks like I've evolved or I've learned maybe some new techniques. I personally want to be able to see that growth,” she says. “I don't know if I can see it, but someone could look at work that I've done a while back and be like, ‘Oh yeah, she's growing.’ I just want there to be some form of growth, whatever that looks like. If that's a new subject or me working with a new media. Anything like that.”