NEARLY 25 YEARS AGO, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) presented an emerging artist exhibition dedicated to Beverly McIver, her first-ever solo show. Next year, the Arizona museum plans to revisit the artist’s work with a career-spanning survey chronicling the arc of her ongoing practice. “Beverly McIver: Full Circle” is guest-curated by Kim Boganey, director of Scottsdale Public Art. Featuring 50 works of art, the exhibition opens Feb. 12, 2022.

McIver’s richly colored figurative portraits explore identity, confronting race and gender issues. Imbued with raw emotion and passion, the images are often self portraits or focus on individual members of her family.


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Can You Hear My Silent Scream,” 1994 (oil on canvas, 38 1/2 x 40 1/2 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Courtesy Betty Cunningham Gallery


The exhibition features several series, including Dear God, Loving in Black and White, Five Days of Feeling, and Depression, the latter two presented in their entirety. Portraits of performance artist Eiko Otake, artist Philip Pearlstein (and his wife Dorothy), and choreographer Bill T. Jones, will also be on view. McIver’s painting of Jones was acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2017.

McIver has a fascinating biography and nearly all of it directly informs her work, from growing up in public housing to meeting her father for the first time at age 16 and having breast reduction surgery. Employing photographs for reference, her work is highly personal, at the same time it speaks to universal themes.

Born in Greensboro, N.C., McIver was the youngest of three daughters. She earned a BA in painting and drawing, from North Carolina Central University, an HBCU in Durham (1987), and an MFA in painting and drawing at Pennsylvania State University in University Park (1992).

In 2000 and 2007, McIver was an artist-in-residence at Yaddo, the artist retreat in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is now a member of Yaddo’s board. In 2013, her self portrait titled “Depression” was among the specially recognized finalists in the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. She was also a Rome Prize Fellow (2017-18).

One of McIver’s regular subjects is her older sister Renee, who the artist describes in her biography as “mentally disabled, with the mindset of a second grader.” McIver became Renee’s legal guardian when their mother died in 2004. The bittersweet disruption occurred just as the artist’s career was on the rise. The sisters share their story in the documentary “Raising Renee.” Shown on HBO in 2012, the film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

McIver has made series about her mother being a domestic worker raising white children, her sister Renee, and depression, which the artist experienced when she took on the responsibility of caring for her sibling. Her father, a retired cab driver, has also been the subject of her work. Last fall, she made a rare shift toward overtly politically paintings in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 election.


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Enough,” 2020 (oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Courtesy the artist


OVER THE YEARS, McIver has discussed her life and practice in interviews, always speaking candidly about her experiences, her inspirations, and the meaning behind her works.

    On her creative process:
    “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.… 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.”
    — From National Portrait Gallery Blog

    On her early desire to be a professional clown:
    “When (Cindy Sherman) dressed up like a clown that was especially appealing to me because I wanted to be a clown when I was younger, like in Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. But I just didn’t get accepted into clown college.… I was part of a clown club in my high school, which was a predominately white high school, and to participate you had to be in white face. So my sister and I had to put on white face even though, of course, we were black. I did parades and birthday parties and then when I went to undergraduate I continued on my own doing clown things. It was liberating to dress up in white face and to escape being black and poor and living on welfare.” — From Huffington Post

    On being in the studio during the pandemic:
    “I needed to really turn this time into a positive. I was like, I’m just gonna paint whatever comes up.… And then…my intuition was like, “You should order some rope…. And it should be a thick black rope….” I was thinking about my hair, because I thought, ‘Wow, what if my dreadlocks were long enough that I could just wrap them [around my head]?’ But I didn’t make the connection between that and the rope. And then I showed the images to my friend Kim. And she’s like, ‘Oh, my God, that looks like a noose!’ And then I saw it…. Later (Kim’s black, by the way), I shared the paintings with a white friend. And they said, ‘Oh, your hair, it’s your dreadlocks, blowing in the wind.’ So then I just continued to ask friends, and it became this sort of split of how black people were interpreting the rope and how white people were interpreting the rope, which was just amazing.” — From Art & Object

“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.” — Beverly McIver

BEVERLY MCIVER, “Dancing for My Man,” 2003 (oil on canvas, 48 x 96 inches). | © Beverly McIver,, Collection of Noel Kirnon and Michael Paley, New York


MCIVER’S CONNECTIONS TO ARIZONA are academic and artistic. For 25 years, she has maintained her practice alongside a teaching career. Today, she is a professor of the Practice of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University. Previously, McIver was on the faculty at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., where she was a professor from 1996 to 2007.

At SMoCA, “In Good Company,” a complementary exhibition presented in conjunction with “Full Circle,” will showcase artists in McIver’s orbit, including her mentors, Faith Ringgold and Richard Mayhew, and some of her students from over the years who are now practicing artists.

Following its presentation at SMoCA, “Beverly McIver: Full Circle” will travel to two additional venues:

  • Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston Salem, N.C. | Dec. 8, 2022-March 26, 2023
  • Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, S.C. | April 28-Aug. 4, 2023

A new catalog will be published on the occasion of the exhibition. The volume will feature a conversation between McIver and Boganey and essays by Duke art historian Richard Powell and Michelle Wallace, the Black feminist writer and Ringgold’s daughter.

“I am honored to see ‘Beverly McIver: Full Circle’ open at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art,” Boganey said. “It truly is a full-circle moment, given SMoCA was one of the first arts institutions in the West to recognize the importance of Beverly’s artwork back in 1998. Beverly’s artwork is now known nationally and is in many notable museum and personal collections, but this is an opportunity to celebrate her journey here in Arizona.” CT


IMAGE: Above, at right, Portrait of Beverly McIver. | Photo by Denise Allen


FIND MORE about Beverly McIver on her website


READ MORE McIver spoke to Duke Arts about her recent political paintings

READ MORE McIver was profiled by the New York Times in advance of Raising Renee airing on HBO


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Black Girl Beauty,” 2018 (oil on canvas). | © Beverly McIver, Collection of Matthew Polk and Amy Gould, Maryland


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Double Amputee,” 2013 (oil on canvas. 48 x 36 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Courtesy the artist


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Clown Portrait,” 2018 (oil on canvas. 45 x 34 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Collection of Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, New York


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Dora’s Dance #3,” 2002 (oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Collection of The Mint Museum, Charlotte, N.C. Purchased with funds provided by Jay Everette, Ronald Carter, Cheryl Palmer and Frank Tucker, Andy Dews and Tom Warshauer, Dee Dixon, Patty and Alex Funderburg, Michael J. Teaford and R. K. Benites, Sharon and Rob Harrington, June and Ken Lambla, Mike Davis, Judy and Patrick Diamond, Anonymous Donor in honor of Amber Smith, Anonymous Donor  


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Invisible Me,” 1999 (oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 35 1/2 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Courtesy of Douglas Walla, New York


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Life Is Sweet,” 1998 (oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Collection of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art; purchased with funds from the New Directions Fund


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Daddy’s Birthday,” 2015 (oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Courtesy the artist


BEVERLY MCIVER, “Defiant,” 2020 (oil on canvas. 40 x 40 inches). | © Beverly McIver, Courtesy of Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21c Museum Hotels


The exhibition catalog “Beverly McIver: Full Circle” is forthcoming in February. Several other publications documenting the artist’s exhibitions have limited availability.


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