Portrait of an Artist: Beverly McIver

Depression / By Beverly McIver / Oil on canvas, 2010 / Collection of the artist, courtesy Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York City
Depression / By Beverly McIver / Oil on canvas, 2010 / Collection of the artist, courtesy Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York City

Q: What is your name, where are you from, and where do you live now?

A: My name is Beverly McIver, and I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. I currently live in New York City.

Q: What mediums do you work with?

A: I paint with oil paint. I paint with a primary palette, which means I use red, blue, and yellow and mix all my colors. I also use white. I mix Liquin with my paint to make it the consistency of room temperature butter.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process?

A: Usually I aim to explore a theme such as transition, depression, or dancing. I take photographs first, and use the photos to create paintings. It is important for me to quiet my conscious mind and rely on my intuition to guide me through the painting.

If I am lucky, I can hear a voice directing me what to paint, how to set up the canvas compositionally, and what colors to use. This process usually yields a good painting.

Q: What is your background and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I was born in a housing project in Greensboro. I am the youngest of three girls raised by a single parent. My mother was a domestic worker, and my oldest sister, Renee, is mentally disabled. That is, Renee is fifty-three years old but has the mindset of a third-grader. Renee also suffers from epilepsy.

My personal history has always influenced my work. I have made a series of paintings about my mother as a domestic worker and her relationship with the white children she raised. One of my first bodies of work was of Renee. I painted about the difficulty of growing up in a household with a special-needs person.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition?

A: The piece I submitted is part of a series I completed titled Depression. The series was in response to a promise that I had made to my mother to take care of Renee if my mother was no longer able to care for her. My mother died suddenly of pancreatic cancer, and I inherited the responsibility of caring for Renee. I had spent my entire life working and building my art career, and now I was responsible for another person. It changed my world, for good and bad. I became depressed.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist?

A: This recently happened. I’m currently on a grant through the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation, which provides studio space in Brooklyn to seventeen artists for one year. We were having an open studio/Christmas party on December 14, which also happened to be my fiftieth birthday. The studios were filled with visitors roaming around.

A woman came up to me and introduced herself. She told me that she had caught the bus from Washington, D.C., specifically to come and meet me. She had seen the HBO film Raising Renee, which is about my family and the promise I made to my mom to care for my mentally disabled sister.

This young lady had been touched and inspired by the film and my art, and said she had to meet me. She, too, was a caregiver for a disabled loved one. I gave her a hug and thanked her for traveling to New York. She informed me that she was catching a 9:30 p.m. bus back to Washington. I was moved that my art and my life story had impacted her life and empowered her. That’s the power of art.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: When I start to doubt my decision to be an artist or think that I am not “good enough,” I look at paintings by my favorite artist, Richard Diebenkorn. I love his work and the colors and juiciness of the paint.

Q: What is your favorite artwork?

A: Alice Neel’s Two Black Girls (1959).

Q: What inspires you?

A: I am inspired by people who live their authentic lives. That’s something I aspire to do.