Unpacked Cargo: Mary Iverson Inside and Out

Shipping containers have a strange relationship to the city of Seattle.  Their accompanying series of orange and white cranes frame our skyline as highly visible but distantly silent landmarks.  With imported products from Asia on the rise and easier movement across the Arctic Ocean due to climate change, the ever-larger stacks of building block-like crates and their colossal vessels that once seemed to be background noise for the city have become poignant emblems of the present.  Washington artist Mary Iverson (NAP MFA Annual 2001) was ahead of the game on the relevance of the shipping container, interjecting it into familiar natural landscapes in her paintings and public art for years. Like many of the scenes she depicts, her work is running up and down the west coast this month, with concurrent shows in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco—a testament to its resonance right now. - Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Mary Iverson, John Day River, 2012, acrylic, ink and magazine photo on panel, 9.5 x 7.5 in. Image courtesy of Shooting Gallery.

When I visited the Cornish College of the Arts Alumni gallery to see Iverson’s Seattle show, I expected to find the luscious, large scale paintings or the smaller mixed media collages for which she is best known.  Her painted, Hudson River School-inspired landscapes of the west overlaid with a web of perspective grids and shipping crates take romanticized subjects and physically complicate the way we see them.  The shipping containers of goods infiltrate the pristine landscapes, introducing a persistent, man made materialism that, along with the surrounding grids, change the way everything else is seen.

Mount Rainier with Containers
Mary Iverson, Mount Rainier with Containers, 2012, oil on canvas, 72 x 48 x 2 in. Image courtesy of the artist.
Mary Iverson, Flip, Panel 2, 2012, digital image, variable dimensions. Image courtesy of the artist.

But, instead of experiencing these cargo-ridden scenes, I was physically taken to Seattle’s own urban vernacular. Cornish’s show Flip focuses on an animation Iverson created from a set of 24 still images she constructed for an outdoor mural along a pedestrian overpass.  Despite being listed as temporary, I was compelled to visit the overpass to see if there was a still chance to experience the real thing.  After getting across town, I found myself funneled into the stream of commuters trying to make the 5:30 pm ferry.  The dank, industrial overpass already begged for another round of the City of Seattle’s Art Interruptions project that commissioned Iverson’s work.

Mary Iverson, Flip (east installation view), 2012, inkjet print on adhesive vinyl. Image courtesy of the artist.

When the commuters cleared, I found the stills from Cornish-- a red cargo container arrives via ship and unfolds into a wooded landscape. The landscape is warmer than most in Iverson’s work, while the tightly packed shipping subjects speak directly to their surroundings. Inhabiting the filthy walls that wind below Seattle’s soon to be defunct viaduct, Flip stands out as the rare piece of public art that integrates into its surroundings without compromising the artist’s sensibility. The passage of time made the installation even more at home, now fully weathered to the wall and absorbing the abrasions of daily outdoor living. The apocalypse that usually blankets Iverson’s paintings is replaced by a friendlier, more utopic vision, but in the shadow of the viaduct, embedded in the daily commute, a flip of the shipping container’s implications isn’t such a bad thing.

Mary Iverson, Flip (west installation view), 2012, inkjet print on adhesive vinyl. Image courtesy of the artist.


Mary Iverson is a painter and public artist based in Washington State. Her work is on view at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA through May 25, Shooting Gallery Project Space in San Francisco, CA through May 4 and Breeze Block Gallery in Portland, OR May 2 - June 1.

Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Manager of Adult Public Programs at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).


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