After years of dues-paying, artist Beverly McIver cleared a high rung on the success ladder when she was given her first solo gallery show in New York City in 2003.
And then, a year later, a promise came due.
Ms. McIver had grown a national reputation through autobiographical expressionistic paintings that address issues of race, gender and class. This cultural activism through art inspired new directions for women artists of color, and her work was covered in important art publications such as Art in America, Art News and The New York Times.
A dozen of her absorbing paintings comprise "Beverly McIver: Intersecting Identities" at the Westmoreland County Community College Art Gallery, Youngwood, where she spoke last week.
That such a prominent figure is exhibiting in southwestern Pennsylvania is due to a friendship that developed between Ms. McIver and Kathleen Dlugos, artist, critic, and WCCC associate professor of art, when they were graduate students at Penn State.
A similar friendship that began while she was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study resulted in a full-length documentary centered on that promise, "Raising Renee," which premiered on HBO last week. Jeanne Jordan was in residence in the neighboring studio, and she and her husband Steven Ascher, both Emmy-winning filmmakers, became interested in Ms. McIver's story.
When they met, Ms. McIver was a rising art star who had grown up in a housing project in Greensboro, N.C. Her mother, Ethel, worked as a maid to support her three daughters, the eldest of whom, Renee, was mentally disabled and lived at home. Ms. McIver promised that she would take care of Renee when her mother no longer could, a distant concept that became cold reality when her mother died of cancer.
Ms. McIver was tenured faculty at Arizona State University at the time, and she moved her sister west. The artist admits to having consternation as she realized the implications of taking responsibility for her sister, and the experience has added the issue of caregiving to her social critique.
In 2007, Ms. McIver accepted a position at North Carolina Central University, Durham, a historically black school from which she had earned a bachelor's degree in painting and drawing, and she and Renee settled into a home purchased there. Two years later, Renee moved to a housing complex for the disabled and elderly in Greensboro, near a school where sister Roni is assistant principal. Family members pitch in and Renee enjoys her independence, making crafts, and the companionship of her cat.
And Beverly pursues her career, teaching, speaking and making paintings that gain power from the interrelationship of self and the world, family and the self.