If you ask most artists about showing their work in a corporate environment, you'll likely be met with a mixture of confusion and horror. Be patient. The artist is attempting to process your question and provide an answer that isn't altogether rude or insulting. The implication of “office art” is that the work isn't high calibre enough to show in a gallery, or be taken seriously as “real” art. Most people outside office culture imagine it to be a place where people sit in pre-fabricated boxes, whittling away the hours for someone else. Dead fluorescent tube lighting casts a green pallor on all it touches. Everything is bland, from the coffee to the carpet. Is this a dire scene? It should be. We who are artists are told an office is the death of art, where paintings go to die.
How funny that Seattle artist Graham Downing puts his paintings in offices to give them life. He quietly speaks to the process of painting, confessing his uncertainty about their value or success as paintings. He isn't known for being a painter – he's known for improvisational performance. He also collaborates with Seattle artist Max Kraushaar for sculpture, photography, and performance-based work. Downing has kept these paintings to himself, keeping them hidden away in his apartment, waiting for the right time to reveal them.
Placing the work in these seemingly fallow spaces allows him to explore it in a new way. He's testing the waters, stripping away the pressure of revealing them more formally. In a sense, he is creating a two-fold distance between himself and these objects, both through the lens of the camera and by putting them in these awkward, badly-lit corners; disassociating them from the slick presentation a gallery offers.
This series demonstrates an ease of composition, revealing analogous geometry: rooms are divided, breaking the frame into thirds; streaks of paint match the fronds of a plant; the lines in the painting are angled the same as the counter on which the painting sits; the color of the subject matches the ambient tone in a distant room. When viewed from across the gallery, the photographs have an odd effect of looking like a mirror. The moment of confusion is delightful – where am I? Oh, that is an office. Wait, there is a painting. This is not that room. That room is a photograph.
Each photograph is presented in a sentimentally cheap gilded frame with printed filigree, and accompanied by an overhanging lamp which shines light on the piece. The light in the lamp is a ghastly-toned LED, reflecting the cold light of office fluorescents. The gallery is dark, not only because the lights have been removed but because Downing has placed an installation of banal office-type ceiling tile in the gallery’s renowned skylight, blocking this specifically characteristic element to cast the space in darkness. This is a playful device; trickery. The art in this room will not be glorified by its infamous cataract of bright light. The full spectrum would warm the work, diluting the harsh edge the overhanging lamps provide. This would be the opposite of the work's intention. It is lit this way because we are meant to come closer, and inspect the work more intimately.
In this darkness, dramatically accented by discreet lamps, the tone of the room is somber and funerary. The tones of our voices are hushed and reverent.
We have come here to pay our respects to the uncertainty of painting.