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Perceptive perspectives with Mary Iverson.  

 Give us a brief synopsis of artistic interests that captivated you until the cargo container series came into Being.

Before my container series, I think I was looking for the containers but didn’t know it. I was painting buildings and warehouses around Seattle; anything large, geometric, and colorful.

You mentioned in your interview with the Citrus Report that you were originally drawn to the cranes at the ports - and then became interested in what the cranes were actually lifting and moving around. Was this a slow transition, or was there a particular moment or movement that struck your fancy and caused this switch? 

In 2004, the Port of Seattle purchased its first three Super Post Panamax cranes. The three new cranes came in on a ship and were rolled onto the terminal to accommodate the biggest container vessels in the world. When the huge cranes arrived, I began reading about the growth of the industry, especially the sizes of the new ships and the cranes required to unload them. Since 2004, Seattle has purchased 10 additional Super Post Panamax cranes for a total of 13. After the arrival of the cranes in 2004 I began studying container volumes worldwide and learning about the environmental impacts of the global economy. My work changed at that point.

There’s this famous story of how Turner once lashed himself to the mast of a ship during a storm in order to better observe the wind and rain and waves for a future painting. I’m not suggesting you tie yourself to a crane during the next hurricane, but I’m thinking of certain paintings of yours with overturning cargo ships and tumbling cargo containers. Did you ever witness any storms during your plein air port painting sessions?

Turner was a nut! I haven’t witnessed any big storms first hand and I hope it stays that way because I have Google images to show me what’s what. Besides, I am prone to seasickness! Watching (via the internet) the horrifying images of the tsunami in Japan and the destruction of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, it was surreal to see the images I conjured up in my paintings occurring in reality. 

What’s your favorite kind of environment to place your cargo containers in? Was there a thrill of creating the unnatural when you first placed them in settings like Yosemite, or Mount Rainer? 

I love portraying the national parks because so many people are familiar with them, and the parks represent the best of our intentions. Most people would be horrified to encounter evidence of environmental destruction in our parks. That’s why I put my shipwrecks there, because it offers a shocking combination. Most people would agree with the sentiment “not in my back yard!” The irony is how frighteningly close we are to this becoming reality. 

What are your thoughts on plein air and observational painting?

Plein-airing for me was a devotional practice and I miss it, but it didn’t answer all of my questions. I still like to do watercolor sketches on location because the process situates me in a place like nothing else can. The product isn’t as important as the experience it gives me of being fully there. It’s like catch-and-release fishing. I also feel like I learned everything I know about color by painting outside.

Do you have any favorite artists who are working with data visualization? 

I am contemplating the idea that my container paintings are data visualizations of a sort. I recently met Justin Lincoln, professor of new genres at Whitman College, and he steered me toward the work of Jer Thorpe and Amanda Cox

Can you give us any advice on dispelling consumerist behaviors and habits?

The system is rigged against the environment right now because the lure of cheap goods is too much for most of us to resist. So much would change if the price of goods reflected the real cost of manufacturing. The true cost would including shipbreaking, the end of life for container vessels, which is now done cheaply in third world countries with zero environmental regulations and zero protection for workers. The true price of goods should also reflect the loss of our landscapes from mountaintop-removal mining, which produces the coal that fires the factories cranking out cheap goods in China. Coal production may support mining communities in the short term, but the long term impacts on humans and the ecosystem are profound and devastating. As much as we can, we need to vote with our dollars and buy products that are produced sustainably. 

What are you working on now, and what are you inspired by recently?

My travels to Europe the last two summers inspired me; bicycle commuters everywhere, solar panels, transit systems, and universal health care. Europeans don’t argue about whether or not the environment needs to be protected, they argue about how best to go about it. They don’t argue about whether or not they should have a social safety net, they argue about how best to maintain it. 

I also visited Yosemite national park this summer and am working on some paintings fueled by that spectacular trip. My most novel project is an animated video sequence I am developing that portrays the struggle for balance between nature and industry.

 What kinds of upcoming projects, shows, and work should we be looking forward to?

For shows, I have some really nice ones on the schedule: at Thinkspace Gallery in LA (group in Feb. 2013, two-person in Aug. 2014 with Stephanie Buer), Shooting Gallery in SF (project room installation April 2013), and Davidson Galleries in Seattle (solo in Nov. 2013). I may even be traveling to Singapore for a show. Singapore has the fourth busiest container port in the world. Stay tuned!

340 notes · #Mary Iverson #Contemporary Painting #Shipping Containers #Environmental Awareness
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