Renee Vandevere has deep roots in Fondren. Her grandmother’s church, Fondren Presbyterian. Her father’s after school hang out — Brent’s.
But for an 18 year-old fresh out of high school, deep roots weren’t enough to hold a creative Mississippi spirit. When you have the opportunity to go to Dallas, you go, she reasons.
Twenty some odd years later, a passing, a flood — and Vandevere, now a full-time artist, is back where she began, in Fondren, part of the resurgence and revitalization of a vibrant and eclectic community.
The decision to leave Texas wasn’t any easy one. “If I had had more time to think, I may have hemmed and hawed,” she says, though ready for change. Her mother had passed away in March and her apartment had flooded in June. “I was here for Father’s Day and said to my dad, ‘What are you doing Thursday?’ We went west, packed up and came back here.”
A researcher by nature, Vandevere found artist Richard McKey while searching the web, and visited his Fondren Art Gallery. She met manager Roxanne Routt who encouraged her to contact McKey, who had the perfect studio space behind his North State Street studio. “It’s peaceful,” Vandevere says, comfortably at her easel with dog, Fluffy, close behind. With plant life and birds just outside the window of her 8′ x 12′ spot, it’s serenity.
Vandevere’s work has taken on a new vibe since moving back home. A rainy street scene in oils flows from her palette of reds, browns and yellows. Looking around her studio, a sense of evolution moves across the walls. “It was always abstract – thick, bright and bold colors,” she tells of her earlier works. “I moved in here, in a different place, a different setting and it speaks to me.”
So does her new neighborhood. Coming from an area in Dallas similar to Fondren — Oak Cliff — Vandevere sees the potential and future of Jackson’s arts district. “If any place I wanted a studio, this is it. To watch it adapt and morph and transform — I’m ready to get involved in anything and everything going on here.”
With no desire to ever be called a ‘starving artist’ (“I love to eat and travel,” she says), Vandevere has successfully made a living painting full time. Whether through earlier efforts as a children’s muralist or to her modern day pet portrait commissions and corporate team building through her ‘Paint Like Picasso,’ Vandevere sees organization and networking as key to any prosperous effort.
Since moving back to Jackson, the signs, she says, are everywhere, affirming she made the right call.
“When I came here, I thought, ‘If I could find a place, at so much per month.’ Then Richard showed me this place — and the rent was the exact amount I had in mind. He told me I had to get liability insurance and sent me the former tenant’s agreement. And that guy had lived on same street I lived on in Dallas, Kings Highway. Then I’m reading about The Cedars, and thinking, ‘We have a Cedars in Oak Cliff!’ At 18, you think, ‘I’m out,’ like you’re running off to L.A. to act,” she imagines. And now? “Everything is just falling in place.”
Vandevere sees being an artist as her true and uniquely colorful calling. She mentions the Bob Gill children’s picture book, What Color is Your World, obtained on a trip to the Dallas Art Museum. “He starts off, ‘If you were a brick layer, your world would be red…a milk man, your world would be white. But ask an artist, and her sky is purple, her trees are red.’ It encourages you to look at things differently. Trees don’t have to be green or brown.”
Visit paintlikepicasso.com to connect with and learn more about the artist.