Beverly McIver is Painting Politics
Beverly McIver was asked to participate in political public art project led by People for the American Way, and it sparked a series of directly political paintings. McIver is Professor of the Practice in Duke's Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies.
Beverly McIver is responding to Black Lives Matter and the election through her paintings. McIver’s work is typically more subtle in its political and social messages. We talked with McIver to learn more about her current motivations.
“Normally I do not make art that is in-your-face, spelled-out political. I was asked by the People for the American Way to make a painting around the words ‘Enough of Trump,’ and that’s when it started.
I had this photograph of a friend of mine, Sheldon, who looked really angry. He sent it to me one day and said: ‘This is how I feel today.’ I decided to paint him and add the words, ‘Enough, Enough.’”
McIver’s painting of Sheldon is now appearing on posters around Atlanta, GA, it will become a billboard, and it will be projected on a building in Harlem—all part of “Enough of Trump,” a get-out-the-vote artist-led campaign organized by People for the American Way.
“After I did the painting of Sheldon, I found this fabric with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ over and over again. I decided to create another painting that would be decorative—colorful and beautiful, with a black face and flowers corresponding to the colors in the fabric.”
“Some people when they look at my work, they say, ‘That’s so beautiful, I love it,’ and they’re really just talking about the colors and the composition, they don’t really want to go any deeper. I don’t want to lose that audience, I appeal to them.”
The two paintings carry the same message, but the “Black Lives Matter” portrait is a softer approach, expanding McIver’s audience.
“If I had made Sheldon as dark skinned as the face in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ painting, people would have thought, ‘I’m scared of him, he’s going to hurt me.’ I had to be careful about that, because I’m trying not to lose people. I wanted to make him approachable, but also hammer home his humanity. We’ve got to care about each other. If it can happen to one group, it sure as hell can happen to another.”
“I’ve gotten a great response to the Black Lives Matter piece with the woman and flowers. People are asking, ‘Will you please make a poster of it?”
With a Black Lives Matter message, McIver also recently completed a work she started at the American Academy in Rome. (McIver was a 2017-2018 winner of the Joseph H. Hazen Rome Prize.)
“For whatever reason, I didn’t finish this painting in Rome. The faces weren’t in it, it was just sort of this gesture. I asked a writer at the Academy if he’d like to fill in the square with some kind of text, anything he wanted to say. He never did, so I just put it aside, rolled it up.
When the Black Lives Matter fabric arrived, I just sort of plopped it in there and thought ‘This is it. Little Black boys saying that Black people’s lives matter.’ It’s almost done.
Sometimes I don’t finish a painting because I don’t know what the answer is, or how to resolve it, or what it is trying to say. Perhaps it is a little bit ahead of its time—and then, it is just perfectly suitable. That is what happened with this painting.”
McIver is Professor of the Practice in Duke’s Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies. Our interview with her has been edited for length and clarity.