American artist Jerry Iverson uses the materials, balance and grace found in Asian calligraphy in particular to highlight his own expression. Working in a series, Iverson uses sumi ink, paper and rabbit skin glue to build a distressed, uneven texture. The torn and broken black lines create an interesting balance that’s fascinating to ponder.

The ‘Windows’ series plays with a surrounding black box that is shifted, tilted and broken to divide the canvas. As referenced in the name, ‘Windows’ offers us a space to look through, and this is partly through concept and the natural style of the art itself.

0EN“Behind the Canvas – Paintings by American Artist Jerry Iverson” (2020)
Window 21, painting by Jerry Iverson
Window 21 72×54 (2020)

Art helped Iverson convey his ideas. Today, language and expression continue to be underlining themes in Iverson’s work. His most recent “Language Series” collection utilizes abstract art to explore life’s ubiquitous problem: communication breakdowns.

A mixed-media collection, his most current works feature sumi ink to create bold, black lines. Regularly used in Asian calligraphy, the ink adds a decisiveness to the lines, giving them the appearance of the written word. The defined lines lead the eye to familiar structures such like an a or a v. Iverson’s use of textures adds uncertainty to the work, highlighting a lack of semantic meaning.

Billing Gazette“Jerry Iverson: Communicating through art” (2016)
Jerry Iverson in his painting studio
In the studio (photo: Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette)

The intensity of certain emotions, the rawness of certain experiences and the profundity of certain thoughts touch those aspects of our being that lie beyond the realms of expression in words. Certain situations are so intense and deep seated that it becomes difficult to simply explain them. They are to be felt, experienced and acknowledged in their own form. That is what a blank canvas can help establish and bolster.

Psychology Tomorrow Magazine“The Therapist in My Canvas” (2013)
Jerry Inverson in front of Language Series painting
Photo from Bill Hayward’ series “The Human Bible”

Jerry Iverson’s collaged paintings speak to the big questions. Although he uses mainly black ink and white paper, his perspective is far from simple. For Iverson, the investigations into God, evolution, language and war pivot on the intersections of black lines where connections are made, or not made. His abstract work reaches into our collective consciousness, taking with it pointers from the unembellished landscape that envelopes his life.

“In 1996 and 2003 we had to evacuate because of fires near our home,” Iverson says, of his place north of Big Timber. “The burnt trees make stark and oddly balanced black lines, and the dry grass and snow give a beautiful golden white background. I love the look of this harsh land.”

Big Sky Journal “Layers of the Mind: Jerry Iverson – Grounded in simplicity, the artist’s use of black and white is powerful” (2013)
Jerry Iverson's log babin studio
Iverson’s painting studio (Big Sky Journal photo)

On first viewing, Jerry Iverson’s abstract paintings at Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery seem to capture the pulse of urban life. There are graffiti-like drips of paint and crisscrossing, tarlike black lines set against layers of tattered white paper. It’s the look of detritus and grit common to cities.

But Iverson actually is rooted in rural life — he was born in South Dakota and is a long-time Montana resident. And so are his paintings rooted in the vast landscape of rural communities. Though reminiscent of the vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism, that most New York of art movements, Iverson’s paintings comment on the Western American landscape and the mythology of the open frontier.

The paintings in this exceptional show are a continuation of Iverson’s “Nerve Block” series. Ranging from a few inches to several feet in length and width, each piece is an interplay between scattered black markings on a mostly white background. The larger ones seem best because scale helps these pieces, acting like a wider, more expansive point of view.

The Oregonian“West Coast abstraction meets East Coast grit” (2007)
painting by Jerry Iverson
Nerve Block 5 12×12 (2004)

By reducing his palette to only pure white and pure black, Iverson’s compositions have a graphic shock quality which he plays against the traditional vocabulary of abstract painting: form, balance, compositional harmony. The painting seems heavy, full of a gravitas similar to minimalism’s assertion of the unavoidable truth of materiality. But the gravitas in Iverson’s work is not an assertion of the materiality of the paint itself, it is soulful, full of motion, expressive. Iverson searches for something spiritual and elemental.

PORT“Nerve Block” (2005)
Nerve Blocks at Emerson
Nerve Blocks exhibit at Emerson Art Center, Bozeman MT

Iverson and Ross — who live in Big Timber, Mont., and Portland, respectively — are card-carrying abstract painters, though both have a way of absorbing the landscape in their nonobjective work.

The Oregonian“Contemporary Northwest Art Awards review: The limits of regionalism” (2011)

Iverson began making rough, brightly colored figurative paintings about rural life. These paintings, accomplished in an energetic, witty; and formally sophisticated cross-fertilization of folk art and German Expressionism were well received in venues from Portland to New York.

In 1988, he commenced work on a deeper and more abstract theme in a major group of paintings which he calls the Language Series. “The subject of my Language paintings is the written word, how it looks and what it means,” he says. “We use language to express thoughts and emotions. Often these thoughts and emotions are difficult to articulate. They come out incomplete, chaotic and in fragments. These paintings are concerned with the difficulty and failure of understanding. They only show parts of words, so much is missing. Yet they contain the hope that even the attempt to speak can produce something of interest or balance or beauty”

“New Montana Painting” (2001, PDF)

Iverson has created a raw, caustic-smelling account of his baleful encounter with human nature set free in the territories. There, language erupts hotly and stings like sleet.

The near-coherence of Iverson’s speech is touching, a clear insinuation of treachery and loss. His modest show tells more about the state of things in late 20th century America than all the sneering, self-absorbed, polemical racket that was written plainly on the walls of the Whitney Museum during the New York musetun’s recent biennial.

The Oregonian“A Montana sheep shearer’s primal scream” (2013, PDF)
painting by Jerry Iverson
Language 170 40×36 (1995)