Departed | A Conversation with Graham Downing

Graham Downing:  hi yo!

Sierra Stinson:  Hiya!

So let’s jump right in – you’ve been away for a few days now.

GD: yes slowly approaching a week

SS:  I would love to discuss the four works you’ve created for ‘I’ll Never Understand the Difference Between Arrivals and Departures’ currently on view at Glass Box Gallery can you describe each one to someone who hasn’t been to the show?

GD:  totally, its a fairly sparse show, usually my work has to be dismantled afterwards so its a relief to create something i feel has high impact but also couldn’t fall onto someone.

SS:  haha

GD:  the show is a video, a book, a sculpture and a performance all of them discussing themes of time both moving forward, looking back and right in the middle too the heart of the show is the performance, a piece called “land of the lotuses”, represented by a calendar on the wall the performance is attempting to leave seattle and not come back for three months having been born in Seattle beating the previous record for time my body has left the city.

SS:  yes, I recall your first and (only?) artist statement you’ve written

‘Graham Downing was born, raised and plans to die in Seattle’

GD:  hahaha, thats every statement I write usually with the addition of “Graham is also sorry he never got back to your texts or emails”

SS:  hahaha and its very apparent in this exhibit.

GD:  i was born here, I’m here now I’ll always come back

that is sort of the idea

The second piece is two book ends, facing away from each other so there book pressing pressures shoot away from each other. It is called “pre birth post death”  and i love that it represents everything in time thats not myself – if that makes any sense its everything but you

SS:  exactly.

GD:  In thinking about my own future and past I realize thats even squished in between two things

SS:  I love that piece, it’s something that has come up in your practice in the past as well.

You tend to create these spaces / installations for individuals to take time in. And I feel like now you are taking your own time. You are the installation or in it.

GD:  Certainly, many of the works I have made before- specifically installation, has a sort of “crawl in this hole and see how you feel” thing going on, Here’s a whole box you can get inside, here’s a thing you can play with, I don’t really know the answer to the equation but I have the components to the problem..

SS:  haha

GD:  in this piece i think I’m crawling into the hole myself

though i kinda love crawling in the whole too

SS:  Yes. And so where does that hole / whole exist now?

What are you looking for?

GD:  oh god


i think i didn’t know until I left.

and maybe i still don’t know

SS:  Well in art practice, it can be the action that helps you find out right? I always thought so.

GD:  I knew that I couldn’t answer it until i was out here

SS:  Yes -the act of creating allows you to understand why you are creating to begin with.

GD:  like guessing felt like trying to predict the future

SS:   indeed.

so you left Seattle, to go where?

GD:  I am in Eastern Washington now, staying on a ranch in the Methow Valley – opening a store and gallery in town with my collaborator Max Kraushaar

SS:  That sounds dreamy.

GD:  it is

Today i went rock hounding and watch rushed hour

SS:  haha, sounds like the duality of being out on your own.

GD:  haha

SS:  What will the store / gallery be like?

GD:  right now were calling it an inconvenience store

SS:  haha

GD:  i sort of see it as an installation of a store

SS:  nice.

GD:  Max and I are both very interested in those glass cases at gas stations with all the whippets and lighters and sex drugs, the kind of dumb things you collect on your dash during a road trio

SS:  What every trucker might need or want.

GD:  Totally

i think that if we pursue it as a flexible installation and not a rigid store we can be more opportunistic to ourselves and the community

SS:  Definitely.

GD:  we do want to sell lighters, but i will be painting mostly and hoping to sell them

GD:  i think to answer the question of why a large part of it was to paint in a large studio in a space that would enable me to possibly sell it

SS:  So rather than simply being the city slickers out in Eastern Washington you want to integrate yourself into environment and see where you fit in the town?

GD:  Absolutely, I’m waring of using Eastern Washington as a rustic background to foreward our hip city look

SS:  Makes sense.

there aren’t many large studios in the city these days. How large of a space are you working on out there?

GD:  its a large space, like really big, i think its around 2000 square feet

SS:  wow, that’s great!

GD:  I don’t think i could throw a baseball all the way across it

though I could probably whip a penny that far

so it is that big


SS:  Haha, Nice. I can see it now

So back to what you’ve left behind. Just for a moment then we can travel back to where you are now.

What else did you create for the exhibit currently up at Glass Box?

GD:  I created a video during the install of the show called “breakdown during install thinking about leaving”

It is a just a 40 minute long loop of me having a panic attack while you and Serrah take the last show down

SS:  yeah, I’ve spoken to a lot of people about that one. It seems to really draw them in, watching you in that pink light.

GD:  the light was perfect

like heat stroke

SS:  yes

GD:  what have people said about it?

haha, its strange to have not been at the show with anyone and not know how the opening even went

SS:  Well, the opening went really well.

people took time with each piece it seemed.

Some individuals closed themselves into the video installation room and just sat with it

Watching you in the video stressing out sitting on that floor, fidgeting away

GD:  haha so good

i bet seeing me sit makes people wanna sit

SS:  definitely.

GD:  like oh yeah, i could just give up on this whole standing thing and be on the ground right now

SS:  yes – they are sitting with you. eye to eye

GD:  i think that video makes a lot of sense too because I was crying in public a lot before I left, it made sense that that vulnerability would be a part of the show

SS:  definitely, it felt necessary to me too.

GD:  but regardless that piece came about as the blunt answer to how I was feeling during the install, freak out, and we had a camera so i just sat down and we filmed it

SS:  Your presence in your absence and your last moment to really express how hard this is to do.

GD:  toootally

its my placeholder at the show

as everyone remembers me



SS:  haha

and then the autobiography.

Where you are most present in history.

GD:  Truly, for the show I knew I wanted to try and write my autobiography, not only because i want to write more and it seemed like the perfect prompt, but for the joke of everything up until the show – the last entry is “and then i wrote this, and then i left seattle”

it is almost 280 memories and stories from the last 26 years of my life starting at birth and ending two days before the show

SS:  There was a que for it at the opening,  it’s also fairly illegible if someone doesn’t know your writing, so people were helping one another in reading it aloud.

GD:  hahaha

oh god

most of it was written pressed against my knee drinking coffee so there are all sorts of stains too

SS:  And its a few notebooks right?

I had to clarify to people that none of the text was written back then from when you were a kid.

How long did it take you to write it?

GD:  Three different ones, written over the month before the show

SS:  Your memory of your childhood is so clear.

GD:  It took a month, with sporadic writing, sometimes memories would unpack other memories and it would be like a vein

SS:  definitely

GD:  i think it helped that i had been telling stories from my childhood for most of my life

so it was easy to remember these very choice moments that ive used to relate to people before

SS:  You have, I was surprised how many I actually knew.

GD:  haha

i believe it – Everyone’s heard that Frida Kahlo story

SS:  true. It’s so classic.

There is a lot of crying, confusion and self deprecation. Like any good comedian.

it’s like your stand up act

GD:  truly

so much crying

i was scared of a lot as a child

SS:  What do you think triggered that fear? Or was it just there from the beginning?

Your text makes it seem like it was always there.

GD:  Boy, I think I’ve just always been very sensitive, especially as a child

luckily I grew up in an environment where that was okay

SS:  definitely, Seattle with your family – I can see that.

GD:  it has helped my comedy for sure

i got that going for me

SS:  You’ve always used it for your advantage

vulnerability makes the best comedy.

but i feel this way with art too

Hence why this show feels poignant to me regarding your practice.

You aren’t hiding behind any smoke n mirrors, it is very raw.

Even the metaphor of the ‘land of the lotuses’ isn’t accurate, it’s the way you remember it.

GD:  haha

i like this show because it relies on zero impressive construction or material

SS:  true true

GD:  I like to create things that are emotional beyond their physical state. I think that is a big part of my comedy coming into visual art. How to take what you have and rearrange it bigger than itself

SS:  I love that idea.

GD:  It’s the same confusing way that jokes make us laugh, is why art makes us feel

SS:  indeed. So with this exhibit, why now?

You’ve had the idea to leave Seattle for a long while

but then to integrate it into a piece…and these other works too.

There are a lot of threads that have come together here.

GD:  Certainly having somewhere to go helped, a place I could go and work on things

Making it a piece was in some ways a way to paint myself into a corner and do it

i sort of wanted to trick myself into leaving

because i was afraid i never would if i didn’t.

That is the whole idea of the ‘land of the lotuses’ – it is so comfortable you never leave

I was trying to pull my face outta of the flower a bit just to see what else is out there.


It’s really weird out here


SS:  it’s always healthy to rattle your own cage a bit.

shake things up to see what you find.

GD:  Performance art is all about examining your comfort zone

SS:  Definitely.

GD:  My comfort zone is Seattle

My comfort zone is Seattle in bed

SS:  Yes. I can see that.

How do you feel about being out there?

GD:  Sometimes really scared

Like really starting to admit I’ve moved, I’m not sure I’ve done that yet.

SS:  Committed to 12 weeks.

GD:  I keep thinking things like “oh ill just grab that at art primo when im back” and things like that then realizing i wont be.

I think it is the fear many of us have (that we should let go of) that the choice we are making is not the right one (even though it has to be)

I’ve been moving around a lot lately, in the last few months and am ready for something to feel like the right choice

hopefully out here does

though it probably will.

I went for a hike today and found Eagle feathers and now I’m sitting in my studio surrounded by rubble that will be a store soon

SS:  that doesn’t sound like such a bad choice yet.

I think you can do it. But it always comes down to if you really can and want to.

GD:  yeah, I am more sure now then I was before leaving

more sure that i could

SS:  definitely. You will go through stages and that’s okay.

Well I’m wondering what else I have to ask you…do you have anything you really want to talk about?

GD:  every single parking spot in this town has oil stains

every single one

SS:  haha. I know exactly what that looks like.

I believe we will be sending a couple writers out over to you two once the studio is set up to do a studio visit.

GD:  that’s exciting to me

i cant wait for them to come!

SS:  I know what that looks like but will you still take a photo for us?

GD:  yes! should i send it now?

SS:  Yes!

GD: onnnneeee sec

GD: wait

how do i send a pic?


i emailed it to you

SS: Got it! so serious

GD:  haha, feeling serious

SS:  I understand.

GD:  If anything else i just wanna thank people for checking out the show and wish me luck! look out for info about the store in the future! Thanks!

SS:  Will do! Good luck and talk to you soon Graham!  xs

GD:  bye! x

I’ll never understand the difference between arrivals and departures

Graham Downing

March 19, 2015
It’s like that old greek myth, about this guy that goes to an island with these lotuses that smell so good you end up staying there forever cause you’re so comfortable. And one day he wakes up and he has a real long beard and doesn’t realize any time has gone by at all.
Except, the lotuses are mild weather and being able to walk to work.
March / Japan

sleeping with my contacts in

Graham Downing
August 25, 2012

‘I’ve been sleeping with my contacts in for the last four months.
Sometimes if they hurt in the morning I’ll take them out and wear my glasses for the day.
I’ve had these glasses since high school and people always say I don’t look like myself when i wear them.

I also don’t know my social security number.
And i always buy gas 5 dollars at a time.’

i could dream before i was born

Graham Downing
January 25, 2011

Graham Downing, a born and raised Seattle-ite who works in multiple mediums, mostly known for his improvising and way with words has created a site specific installation