The Light Within: New Paintings by Beverly McIver
Beverly McIver returns to Craven Allen Gallery with a powerful new exhibition of paintings. THE LIGHT WITHIN opens on Saturday, November 14th and continues through February 20th. The gallery is open with social distancing guidelines in place, and the work is available for viewing online.
A nationally known artist who has been named Top Ten in Painting by Art News, Beverly McIver was working nonstop, teaching classes at Duke, leading workshops all over the country, caregiving for her family, and painting when she could. When Covid hit, along with all of 2020’s racial and political turbulence, McIver’s life changed dramatically. McIver faced the chaos and isolation the only way she knew how—through paint.
It was an intensely productive time. “I painted daily. It was both thrilling and terrifying; all this energy poured into two dozen new paintings,” says McIver. Through a series of self-portraits and paintings of family and friends, McIver confronted her feelings and fears. She created portraits of her sister and her 94-year-old father as a means of remaining intimate even as they all struggled with loneliness and isolation. A colorful silk scarf draped over her head became a mask or a blindfold. Light filtering through blinds in her home beautifully outline her face, yet also suggest prison bars. A heavy black rope figures prominently in many of the new works. “Black friends interpreted the rope wrapped around my head as a noose and white people saw the rope as my dreadlocked hair blowing in the wind. The interpretations of the two worlds I straddle daily, collided.”
“My voice felt loud and unapologetic. I felt power in speaking my truth. I hadn’t been loud enough, and I needed to scream it,“ says McIver. “These new works do just that. I have never felt the need to be so bold about constraints and restrictions. This is the time to be brave.”
A career survey of the artist’s work begins at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in 2022, before touring the country. McIver is curating a show of contemporary African American artists working in North Carolina for Craven Allen Gallery in 2021.
Craven Allen Gallery is located at 1106 ½ Broad Street in Durham. Gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, please call the gallery at 286-4837 or visit www.CravenAllenGallery.com.
THE LIGHT WITHIN
When Covid-19 entered my life in mid-March of 2020, I felt somehow responsible for the deadly plague. I had been praying all year for life to slow down and allow me the time to catch my breath. I felt like I was on a Ferris wheel going around and around with no way to exit; if I wanted to stop, I would have to jump off. I thought that if I got into a car wreck, I would at least have the luxury of resting in a hospital bed in peace, with few visitors.
Then Covid arrived and the world locked down. No classes to teach, no flying around the world giving lectures or teaching workshops; everything came to a screeching halt. It was time to reinvent myself–to redefine my purpose in life. I was scared and hopeful and open to a newness. I had no expectations except to be flexible and open; I have learned that is the only way to survive change. I knew I would grow, that growing pains are real, and that the more you grow, the more pain you must endure. I allowed myself to be sad, even depressed for several days.
But the lockdown gave me the opportunity to just paint, to discover and experiment. I gladly accepted the challenge and began painting daily. I wanted to respond to the chaos in the world in a meaningful way.
Family ties remained strong. As a caregiver to my sister and 94-year old-father, I had to be especially careful. The lockdown made our get-togethers more difficult and strained. My sister Renee tells me often that she is lonely. My father especially doesn’t really understand Covid: he tells me he doesn’t have any germs and hates all the precautions. I continue to paint my family as a way of expressing my love and care.
Two new series came to dominate my work, and further my exploration of masks and identity. I draped a beautiful silk scarf, given to me by an artist friend, on my face. Sometimes I couldn’t see, sometimes I couldn’t breathe. Blindly, I snapped a few selfies, standing in front of the window, with sunlight pouring in through the blinds. It created its own pattern on top of the brilliant colors. The paintings with the scarf surprised me with their strange beauty. They were disconcerting, yes, but also, somehow, comforting. The scarf became my new mask, my way of remaining in the shadows.
My painting mind was overflowing with ideas; I got a length of black twisted rope, unsure what to do with it. Again, I stood in front of my sunny window and wound the weighty rope across my face and neck. My vision was obstructed, a helpless feeling. I snapped a few shots. I moved slowly, noticing how the sunlight hit the rope and my brown skin that prickled through. After a few minutes, I removed the rope, as it was scratchy and heavy; the burden of history. I cannot describe what I was feeling in words—I just had to paint it. Intuitively it felt on point; I felt I was clearly acknowledging something significant deep inside me. It was exhilarating.
Black friends interpreted the rope wrapped around my head as a noose and white people saw the rope as my dreadlocked hair blowing in the wind. The interpretations of the two worlds I straddle daily, collided.
I kept the dialogue going by enticing family members and friends to wrap themselves with the rope. I painted daily– it was both thrilling and terrifying; all this energy poured into two dozen new paintings. My voice felt loud and unapologetic. I felt power in speaking my truth. I hadn’t been loud enough, and I needed to scream it. These new works do just that. I have never felt the need to be so bold about constraints and restrictions. This is the time to be brave.
I am never going back. I am not interested in returning to the way things were. It is the time to create something new, something inclusive of all mankind. Black Lives Matter. We must as humans care about each other.
This quote by Sonya Renee Taylor says it best:
We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal, other than normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack.
We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.
ABOUT BEVERLY MCIVER
Beverly McIver is widely acknowledged as a significant presence in contemporary American art and has charted a new direction as an African American female artist.
McIver, born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1962, is the youngest of three sisters. McIver is now the legal guardian of her oldest sister, Renee, who is mentally disabled, with the mindset of a third grader. Renee is a frequent subject of the artist’s work, as are other family members. “Raising Renee,” a feature-length documentary film, produced in association with HBO by Academy Award-nominated and award-winning filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, tells the story of the impact of McIver’s promise to care for her sister when their mother dies. The film played in festivals around the country, was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming and is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
McIver’s work is in the permanent collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Weatherspoon Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the NCCU Museum of Art , the Asheville Museum of Art, The Crocker Art Museum, the Nelson Fine Arts Center Art Museum at Arizona State University, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the Cameron Museum of Art, and the Mint Museum as well as significant corporate and private collections. She had a solo exhibition at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in 2017, North Carolina Museum of Art in 2011, and at the Mint Museum in 2012.
A survey of her work is will open at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in 2022, before touring the country. McIver is curating a show of contemporary African American artists in North Carolina at Craven Allen Gallery in 2021.
Recent honors include a yearlong residency at the American Academy in Rome, where she was featured in a Beverly McIver e il colore nero, a documentary for Italian television. In 2017 she received the lifetime achievement award from the Anyone Can Fly Foundation in a ceremony hosted by Faith Ringgold. McIver was named as one of the “Top Ten in Painting” in Art in America in 2011, and her work has been reviewed in Art News, The New York Times and a host of other publications. McIver has received numerous grants and a 2017 Purchase Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Anonymous Was A Woman Foundation grant, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard University, a Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation award, a distinguished Alumni Award from Pennsylvania State University, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, and a Creative Capital grant.
McIver has held residencies at many of the nation’s leading artist communities, including Yaddo, the Headland Center for the Arts, Djerassi, and Penland School of Arts and Crafts. During the fall of 2014, McIver was Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, N.C. She has served on the board at Penland, and currently serves on the board of directors at Yaddo.
McIver received a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Pennsylvania State University, and an honorary doctorate from North Carolina Central University. McIver is currently Professor of the Practice in Studio Arts At Duke University. She was the Suntrust Endowed Chair Professor of Art at North Carolina Central University, 2007-2014. Prior to this appointment, McIver taught at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. for twelve years, Duke University, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University.