For artist Mary Iverson, the stroke of her paintbrush is a form of environmental activism.

More than fifteen years ago, she was looking for a quiet place to paint and set up her easel next to the Seattle Harbor. She began painting pictures of the ships and shipping containers she saw in the port.

Iverson Overlook artwork
Overlook, 11 x 14 inches, acrylic, ink, found photograph on panel, 2015.

Iverson: “I started looking at the shipping container cranes, and getting drawn to those, and just more and more fascinated by the colors and the shapes.”

Iverson realized that these shipping containers represented a huge volume of goods being moved, and she began to consider the end result of all that consumption.

Iverson: “Things are really cheap, and then we buy them and use them and put them in the landfill.”

Disturbed by the amount of resources and energy wasted by our throw-away society, Iverson began exploring it in her work, using the shipping container as an abstract symbol of waste.

Today her art depicts the brightly colored containers in pristine landscapes. She shows them far away from the Seattle harbor – in national parks, next to glaciers, and even on the Great Wall of China.

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By juxtaposing shipping containers against places we value and want to protect, Iverson’s art asks people to consider the consequences of consumerism.

Tipsoo Lake, 32 x 50 inches, oil on canvas, 2015.
Tipsoo Lake, 32 x 50 inches, oil on canvas, 2015.

Reporting credit: Justyna Bicz/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Artwork photos: Courtesy of Mary Iverson.

More Resources
Mary Iverson Website
In the Aftermath of the People Problem
Empty Kingdom Interview: Mary Iverson

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Jan O'Brien

Jan O'Brien was assistant editor and website manager at Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. She brought more than three decades of experience in environmental publishing and policy research and more...