Beverly McIver was at Yaddo last week recovering from a bad cold and enjoying a few days of freedom and privacy before she returns to the world of commerce and academia in North Carolina. Yaddo is an artist colony in upstate New York where residents are sheltered, nourished and allowed to work without interruption.
A contemporary artist who grew up in Greensboro, McIver, 54, has had shows, residencies and fellowships in galleries and institutions all over the country. On Tuesday, she will open a show at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art.
The exhibition is one of SECCA’s 12 x 12 artists salon series, which is showcasing 12 artists who have roots in North Carolina but are also part of the larger art world. North Carolina was the 12th colony to become a state.
Cora Fisher, curator of contemporary art at SECCA, organized the series.
“The goal is to shine a light on the fact that important art is happening today right here in North Carolina, and I think Beverly’s work is going to resonate with a lot of people,” Fisher said.
Bowman “Bo” Gray IV, a member of SECCA’s board of directors and a photographer, met McIver at an art opening in Durham, where she currently teaches.
“I sat with her at the artist dinner, and we became fast friends,” Gray said. “She is emotionally about as honest a human being as I’ve ever met, and her work is just amazing.
“Beverly’s star is on the rise, and she is going to leave a mark on the art world and the world at large that is going to be long-lasting.”
McIver’s work is big, bright and intensely personal. She paints self-portraits, portraits of the people close to her and other subjects, mostly in oil.
When her mother’s health started to fail, McIver fulfilled a promise that she had made to assume the care of her elder sister, Renee, who has developmental disabilities. Their mother, Ethel McIver, died in 2004.
“She has the mindset of a third-grader,” McIver said of Renee.
Shortly before McIver started caring for Renee, Jeanne Jordan and Stephen Ascher bgan a documentary film about McIver’s life as an artist. The film eventually became “Raising Renee,” a story about McIver’s artistic and personal life. It was completed in 2011, shown on HBO and nominated for an Emmy Award.
The trailer for “Raising Renee” will be shown at SECCA on Tuesday, and the 82-minute film will be screened on Jan. 24.
“I had another residency in New York,” McIver said. “That’s when we started filming, and that’s when we found out that my mother was sick. That’s when the focus of the film changed.
“It was interesting. When Jeanne said, ‘I want to make a film about you,’ I wasn’t thinking about HBO or an Emmy. I thought, ‘Oh, you’re going to make a little film.’
“They filmed for six years. They weren’t intrusive, even though they were there. Stephen, who was the cameraman, never made any facial expressions in approval or disapproval, so it was easy to be myself. There are some times in the film when I’m walking around in my pajamas and having my hair up in curlers, not ready for Prime Time.”
McIver’s recent work has focused on her father Cardrew Davis, 90, a retired cab driver who still lives in Greensboro.
“I didn’t know him growing up,” McIver said. “I didn’t find out until I was 17 that he was my dad because my mother wasn’t married to him. I couldn’t have a relationship with him because she was mad with him, and I’m just beginning to have a relationship with him in the past few years. He’s in good health. He’s walking with a cane, but he’s all there.”
The paintings of her father and other men in her life are the subject of her show at SECCA.
Gray has taken black-and-white photos of McIver with her dad and some with Renee. They will hang in the living room at SECCA during McIver’s 12 x 12 show.
“She told me I’d have to talk him into it, that I should go to Stephanie’s Restaurant in Greensboro and get him his favorite lunch and he might cooperate,” Gray said. “He was really amazing. He told me about being a cab driver and how proud he is of Beverly.”
Although McIver embraced her role as Renee’s caregiver, by the end of the film Renee was able to start living independently in a small house in Durham.
“Renee is great,” McIver said. “She just called me, and I said, ‘I can’t talk to you right now because I’m in a meeting.’ And she said, ‘Another one?’ She has a cat named Snowball.”
After teaching at N.C. Central University, UNC-Greensboro and Arizona State University, McIver has been the Esbenshade Professor of the Practice of Art, Art History and Visual Studies at Duke University since 2014.
She received a master’s degree in painting and drawing from Pennsylvania State University in 1989, and in 2007 she received an honorary doctorate from North Carolina Central University, where she studied initially.
Between teaching, painting and checking in on her sister and father, McIver has a busy life. The getaway to Yaddo was unusual.
“It’s the first time in 10 years that I’ve been to an artist colony,” she said. “It’s hard to leave Renee, my father and everybody.
“I had some idea of what I wanted to do while I was here. But I was in bed for a week. That left me only a week to paint, so now I am in my studio (at Yaddo) wanting to paint and I have to pack these paintings up and send them back to my studio in Durham.
“I decided I’m just going to paint some images that I normally wouldn’t paint — Renee and selfies with both my sisters (they have another sister, Roni) — and I painted my cousin Sharon — she was a diabetic — in her wheelchair with no legs and missing a finger.
“I want to talk about diabetes and how it’s preventable.” McIver’s cousin died about six months ago.
“What’s really amazing about her work is that she is a very candid humanist,” Fisher said. “She makes these really luscious paintings of people in her life. The work is autobiographical in a way that seems very true.
“It is warm work, and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to it.”