Using inks, acrylics, found photos and sharp knives, Seattle artist Mary Iverson imagines a “new sublime” in the rubble of climate-change cataclysm.
What’s the best vantage point for taking in the apocalypse?
The rim of Crater Lake is a possibility. A woodland pond near Mount Rainier offers another fine option. Or maybe the coast of Maui is the best alternative.
In “You and Me in the Aftermath,” a new show by Seattle artist Mary Iverson at G. Gibson Gallery, environmental and volcanic devastation fills every horizon — and the reaction of the tiny human figures who observe it is pure nonchalance. Hikers keep hiking. Tourists keep gawking. And kids crane excitedly over a glacier-deep river of ships and bright cargo containers clogging the Columbia Gorge.
Mary Iverson: “You and Me in the Aftermath”
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through Nov. 28, G. Gibson Gallery, 300 S. Washington St., Seattle (206-587-4033 or www.ggibsongallery.com)
Iverson, who teaches at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, is a landscape surrealist with an eco-warrior agenda. She deliberately “ruins” her pictures with inks, acrylics and X-ACTO knives to get her point across. And yet there’s a kind of gusto to her doom-laden visions.
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“After the cataclysm that most of us feel is coming due to climate change,” she writes in her artist’s statement, “there will be a new sublime to inspire and frighten us.”
At an artist’s talk last Saturday at G. Gibson Gallery, she added amiably: “We’re going to walk through the rubble together.”
Iverson’s “walks” may vary in medium, but the rubble depicted in her paintings, drawings and altered photographs is consistent. Her oil-on-canvas landscapes, which show off her chops as a painter, are littered with foundering cargo-container ships and scored with harsh perspective lines (“The best way to draw,” she quipped at the talk, “is with a knife.”)
In “Rainier View,” three visitors enjoy a quiet mountain lake, seemingly oblivious to the half-dozen cargo containers afloat in it and the volcano going up in smoke just over the ridge. “Visit Haleakala National Park” captures similar incongruities, as its two young hikers ignore the erupting volcano to their left and the ghostly container ship heading toward its fuming crater.
With their ocean views, “Huelo Point” and “Shipwreck, Kahakuloa Head” portray more plausible mayhem — though the vessel in “Kahakuloa Head” seems to be snuggling almost affectionately against its point of destruction.
In other works, Iverson methodically disfigures found photographs. “Crater Lake,” for instance, shows Wizard Island with enormous cargo ships half floating, half foundering on its shores.
In both the paintings and altered photographs, the primary colors of the ships and containers pollute the naturalistic color schemes, while the perspective lines willfully sabotage the organic contours of her scenic vistas.
Iverson does offer two small pieces, “Tipsoo Lake, Before” and “Tipsoo Lake, After,” which demonstrate what the same landscape looks like served straight-up (perfectly pleasant) versus knife-altered (denser, more interesting).
There are also two oddly serene graphite-on-paper drawings, “Morning Walk” and “View,” in which a young couple walking a dog and an older couple perched on a scenic overlook observe cargo containers piled high over their heads. The message seems to be: We’ll take our ruin in stride, thanks.
The one anomaly in the show is “Polar Pioneer,” a huge oil painting of a Shell oil rig looming above the ice floes of the Chukchi Sea. Iverson had a chance to tour the rig when it was docked in Elliott Bay, and her hands-on experience is reflected in the painting.
No perspective-line scratches or errant shipwrecks disfigure its just-the-facts-ma’am rendering of the imagined scene. Still, the rig is so ludicrously out of scale with its environment that it looks like pure fantasy.
The real, Iverson seems to be saying, has become the surreal.