EK Interview: Mary Iverson


Mary Iverson is a painter from Seattle, her works depict a natural world overrun and polluted by consumerism. The nature in her art is beautiful and vibrant in its own right, but to it so marred by shipping containers and their tendrils is a striking image, indeed. Check out her interview:

Tell us who you are. What did you fear most as a kid?
When I’m not painting, I like to hike with my dogs, go skiing, ride my bike, and hang out with friends and family.

Shipbreaking Torrey Pines State Preserve 32 x 50 inches oil on canvas 2014

When I was a kid, I was afraid of the next ice age. There was a show called “In Search of,” narrated by Leonard Nimoy, and they did an episode on the coming of the next ice age. It’s funny because that is still a distinct possibility with the changes in ocean currents due to climate change.

Why the shipping industry? Do you think the shipping industry is the best representation for our gross consumerism? It’s only the vector after all, the means for goods to be moved from here to there, how do you think your work affects the idea of consumption itself, and the culture of need?
To me the shipping industry represents the growth of consumption. More containers = more goods.

Huelo Point 20 x 30 inches oil on canvas 2015

Seattle is a city of weekend warriors and many people that have a connection to nature, after all, one can see Rainier, Baker, and the Olympics from the city. The Olympic Peninsula, which is part of one of the largest rain forests lies just across the water from the city. How do you think such exposure to nature has affected the culture of the city? How has this affected your personal values? Besides staving off wholesale destruction of the planet, what does preservation of the environment mean to you personally?
I grew up in Seattle and am happiest here, close to the water and the mountains. I have lived briefly in other cities and I felt lost without having nature close by. I think that the adage “out of sight, out of mind” applies here. When nature is in sight, we consider it more. My paintings are meant to bring environmental topics into sight, and into our minds.


What attracted you to colorful blocks and straight lines? They stand out in stark contrast to the scenes of nature, but they aren’t inherently ugly, they may be disruptive to the flow of the scene, but they’re not jarring. What response do you want your viewer to have when they look at your work? Lament? Regret?
Before my current body of work, I did a series of purely geometric paintings that featured abstractions of shipping containers and port imagery. Before that, I was a pure landscape painter. My current work combines the two lines of inquiry into one style that I find engaging and important.

Overlook acrylic ink magazine photo on panel 11 x 14 inches 2015 copymd

The message in my work is “pay attention!” There is a conflict between our society’s consumerism and our environmental goals.

What is the end goal? Some art is a commentary on social situations, some is simply made to be, much of yours was made to address a pressing issue of our time, do you think it will help? How would you gauge your success, as an artist? Financially? Beyond that, how do you hope to change the world around you through your work?
This month, my work is featured in Foreign Policy Magazine and the Boston Review, illustrating the environmental issues that are important in the world today. I am excited to be part of a national dialogue about our impact on the environment. As for success, my goals have always been to make exceptional work, and to have an engaged audience, so by that measure I have become successful.


The conflict that plays out in my work also reflects the goals that are at odds in our society. On a personal level, my work is an attempt to reconcile two passions: my love of nature and my continuing interest in the shipping industry. My hope is that my work causes people to pay attention to the connection between human habits and environmental destruction.

Rainier View 24 x 36 inches oil on canvas Mary Iverson 2015

You use a diverse array of color for the shipping containers. do you have a specific palate you choose from? How calculated is the color you choose for the containers? Have you studied color theory and do you use it in your work?
My years spent plein air painting taught me everything I know about mixing color. Outside, there is always an overarching color situation due to the unity of light source and the atmosphere. In my studio work, all I need to do is start with one color, and everything gets intuitively orchestrated from there.

Brothers 8x10 inches acrylic ink found photo on panel 2015

How has your work as a teacher influenced your art? What have you learned in that role that you may not have, or may have learned down the line, otherwise?
My students remind me to be passionate about art. My own practice has become so normal to me that I forget how special it is to have the opportunities and the audience I am currently enjoying.


What’s your favorite of all your paintings?
I am really happy with “Rainier View,” and “Ladder” from my current body of work. Both of these paintings illustrate important issues. “Rainier View,” portrays the nonchalance of most people in the face of environmental disasters. “Ladder” expresses how we need to work together and help each other through the current refugee crisis.

Shipbreaking, Mount Rainier, Mary Iverson

What’s the last adventure you went on?
In August, I visited Everglades National Park. It was a quick visit, and I want to go back to see more of the park.

Tipsoo Lake After 12 x 12 inches oil on canvas 2014