Full Circle’ at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Just two weeks ago, nationally renowned artist Beverly McIver said one of her hardest goodbyes.

The last three months with her father had been good, she said, smiling. They spent many days laying in bed together while she fed him ice cream sandwiches. They watched their favorite TV shows.

He told her stories for as long as he could in the days he had left.

At 95, he died in McIver’s house. They had only started to get to know each other in the last 20 years. But they were good years.

Days after he died, she began painting portraits of her father. A memorial exhibition will go up soon in her hometown, Durham, North Carolina, where McIver is now a professor of art at Duke University.

The people who have impacted her — the people she loves — have always been her inspiration for her lush, colorful portraits.

Paintings of her father are only a fragment of McIver’s works which will be on display at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art for the exhibition, “Beverly McIver: Full Circle.” It’s paired with the complementary installation, “In Good Company,” which features the works of her mentors and students over the years. The installations will be on display from Feb. 12 through Sept. 4, 2022.

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‘Beverly McIver: Full Circle’ tells the story of her life

It’s an exhibition that tells her life story — her experience growing up in Greensboro in the early years of desegregation, the struggle of becoming her disabled sister’s legal guardian when their mother died, the unexpected relationship formed with her father that began when she met him at 17 and the joys and struggles of everyday living, she said.

“It’s going to create a wonderful narrative of who I am as a person, and the love I have for my family, my sisters, my dad. It’s going to share the cycle of life,” McIver said.

“You live and then you die,” she continued. “We have so many boxes that we put people in and really what this show will show is that, ‘it doesn’t matter what color you are or how much money you have, ‘ As a human being, you’re still vulnerable and human beings are fragile and life is not fair.”

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McIver started drawing portraits to get the attention of her mom

McIver grew up with her mother and two sisters, Renee and Ronnie.

By age 12, McIver began to experience the impacts of desegregation. It started when she and her sisters were bused to different school districts and it continued through her high school years.

“K through 12, I was bused to white schools across Greensboro,” McIver said. “So I basically started adopting white middle class values ​​and actions like going to college and learning to eat anything, because I had white friends that would invite me for dinner and serve something like asparagus which I had never seen before. I really, really learned during those years how to be flexible, and who I am.”

In high school, she started drawing portraits of her friends. Drawing was the way her sister Renee — who was mentally disabled — got attention from their mom. McIver wanted attention, too.

But her portraits garnered more attention than the “good job” that her sister’s did from their mother. Soon, McIver’s collection of portraits of her friend’s faces hung in the glass display case of her high school.

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How dressing up like a clown felt liberating

McIver said she has always felt isolated.

Feeling different started in the early years, when she dressed like a clown for fun. Her costume included a homemade concoction of a yellow yarned wig paired with her mom’s church gloves.

Some of her first self portraits were of her dressed as a clown.

She even auditioned for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, she said.

“I was denied,” she said, laughing. “But that was a liberating act for me because I wasn’t discriminated against or under fire because I was poor or black or living in the projects. That was the real sort of liberation for me that I wanted.”

McIver’s career began to take off in Arizona

McIver was the first in her family to go to college. It wasn’t long after she graduated with her master’s of fine degree that the self-described “poor, struggling artist,” moved to Arizona for her first teaching job at Arizona State University.

For 12 years Arizona was home. It was in Phoenix that McIver hung up portraits for her first exhibition as an emerging artist. It was at that exhibition that she began to forge a bond with Kim Boganey, director of Scottsdale Public Art, who is curating “Full Circle.” Boganey was the registrar at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art when she and McIver met in 1998.

The two are still best friends.

In Arizona, McIver won a Guggenheim Fellowship and was invited to attend the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies for a year.

Since then, McIver has earned national attention.

Her work can be found at places including the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In 2011, she was named one of the “Top 10 in Painting” by Art in America magazine. And in 2017, she received a yearlong residency at the American Academy in Rome.

But Arizona is where her artistic career began — and that’s why she came back to start the tour for her “legacy exhibition,” McIver said.

“Coming to Arizona was out of the nest, out of the comfort zone,” McIver said. “I didn’t even know where Arizona was on the map and I succeeded, I thrived. I owe Arizona a lot.”

Raising Renee

Eight years after McIver moved to Arizona, her mom died from cancer. From that point on, McIver was no longer strictly an artist. Days later, her sister, Renee, moved in, making McIver her full-time caretaker and legal guardian.

“Three years before my mom even died, she asked Renee, ‘if something should happen to me, who would you love to live with?” And Renee chose me.”

From cooking Renee’s favorite meal, macaroni and cheese, to crafting her room into a pink and purple wonderland McIver took care of her sister full time. She did it while still teaching, still making art.

While McIver sold her paintings, Renee sold homemade potholders.

“At one show, they were gone like hot potatoes,” McIver said, laughing. “She had a big stack of money, maybe about $500. I’ll never forget the moment she raised that money and put it in my face and said ‘I’m sorry you didn’t sell any paintings.'”

In 2011, HBO produced a documentary titled, “Raising Renee.” Award-winning filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, produced the show, which was nominated for an Emmy.

Twelve years later, Renee moved to her own apartment but McIver still takes care of her.

Getting to know her father

Renee is only one of McIver’s muses. Her dad was another. McIver met him for the first time at 17.

The details are still unclear, McIver said. But her mom, who cleaned homes at the time, met McIver’s father when he was a taxi driver and would drive her mom to work.

“I was the product of that affair,” McIver said.

The day her dad showed up at her apartment door and introduced himself for the first time brought up deep pain. Being estranged from him was one of the reasons she felt so isolated. It was one of the reasons why she rejected feminine clothing and fled from commitment and relationships with men, she said.

It wasn’t until after mother’s death in 2004 that McIver chose to build a relationship with her dad.

“I decided that I was going to make an effort to get to know him,” McIver said. “Instead of thinking of him as my dad, ‘I thought of him as this older man who lived alone and told great stories about a man who lived in a taxi cab.’”

She got to know “a lovely, lovely old man,” McIver said, in tears. Every week, she’d trek to his home to hear stories and bring him his favorite foods: Ribs and cornbread.

She forgave him.

When he fell and broke his hip three months ago, he moved in with McIver. She didn’t start her life with her dad but his life ended with her in his. They spent every day of those three months together until he died.

“Full Circle,” McIver said, smiling. “I love him.”

‘It feels like my legacy in paintings’

McIver — whose recent portraiture has expressed her reflections on the pandemic and the 2020 Presidential election — is now building a nonprofit for artists.

It’ll be called Renny’s Place, McIver said, after her sister. McIver will host and teach artists for two to eight weeks on an 11-acre property in the middle of North Carolina.

“I hope that people can see a full life of the ups and downs,” McIver said. “You can’t control what happens in life, but we can control how we respond to it, so the biggest thing is, being open and accepting your journey in this life and doing it to the best of your ability. Living is hard work If anyone said, it’s going to be easy, then they’re a liar.”

Reach the reporter at sofia.krusmark@gannett.com. Follow her on Instagram @sofia.krusmark.

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