Tumbling Figure: Five Stages
Goat Hill Garage
An iconic installation puts human fallacy on full display.
Complacency and hubris. Balance and choice. Tragic failure and fallen heroes. These timeless themes arise again and again in mythology, as in the story of Icarus who flies out of captivity using wings made of feathers and wax, then falls to the sea after getting too close to the sun.
In Michael Spafford’s Tumbling Figure: Five Stages, a human figure falls downward through a series of five vertically stacked images. Each image is rendered in a cut and painted aluminum parallelogram; together they stand 70 feet tall.Originally created in 1979 for installation on the external wall of an elevator shaft in Seattle’s Kingdome, this artwork was put into storage when the stadium was demolished in 2000. Four years later, it was re-installed in its current site, the façade of a King County parking structure at 6th Avenue and Jefferson Street, which has a strong formal relationship with the artwork and emphasizes the symbolic height of the figures.
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In 2004, Spafford told The Seattle Times he’d had athletic tumbling and Greek mythology on his mind when he created the artwork. “I was dealing with figures that were falling heroes or tumbling heroes,” he said. “These myths keep repeating themselves throughout different cultures.”Spafford (1935-2021) is known for his oil paintings, which often drew on Greek and Roman mythology. His work has been exhibited widely, including solo retrospectives at Seattle Art Museum and Bellevue Arts Museum, and he taught painting at the University of Washington from 1963 to 1994. Tumbling Figure: Five Stages was Spafford's first public art commission, created through 4Culture’s Honors Program.