Friday, 22 March 2013

World Figure Skating Championships 2013

World Figure Skating Championships 2013

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov

London (Canada) was founded  in the early 1800s by the British military as a garrison town to prevent the land-hungry Americans pushing their boundaries northwards.  The British soldiers were obviously homesick, they named the river running through the town "The Thames" and the streets and districts of the town after London districts; there are many familiar names like Piccadilly, Oxford street and St Paul's Cathedral.  But the similarities stop there, the weather is more severe, the  temperatures in mid March are colder than London UK in mid winter, and because the town is located on land between the Great Lakes the area has more thunder storms (including "ice storms")  than anywhere else in North America.  The day we arrived it was windy and snowing and the temperature was minus six.  There was no hint that winter would ever end, and the leafless trees sticking out of the snow  covered ground gave no hint of the approaching Spring, to walk just a few yards outside was an Arctic adventure

I am not a big skating fan, but Mami is.  Last year I had accompanied her to the championship in Nice on the French Riviera.   The arrangement worked well because the warm March sunshine had brought bathers out on to beaches and filled the cafe bars with elegant French society which gave me a lot to do and draw whilst Mami enjoyed watching the skating.  Last year I hardly drew any skaters, and when I tried the results were not encouraging, so I was apprehensive about going to Canada.

I need not have worried, on the first day we went to watch rehearsals at the practice rink which is some miles from the main arena.  Not many people go, so the atmosphere is informal and relaxed, and I settled myself in an inconspicuous place behind the main seating and started to draw.  There was an attractive pair of skaters from Italy practicing their lifts, they seemed to be in good spirits and enjoying their preparation work.

An Italian Pair were practicing their Lifts

Whilst making my first tentative drawings of the week I was disturbed by a voice over my shoulder, "that's nice" she said, and then she was gone in bobbing and bouncing movements back and fore along the aisle behind me.  I later discovered the voice belonged to Alyona Savchenko, who with her partner Robin Szolkowy, were the reigning world ice pairs champions in 2012-13.  Over the last seven years Alyona and Robin has never been outside the the top three in the World, at this championship they deservedly won the silver medal.

 Aljana Savchenko

Sadly I did not catch her lovely movements in my drawings, but over the week I made a number of drawings of pairs.  This sport is very artistic, and I was struck at how closely the couples work together.  We know that empathy develops much more strongly when people imitate, mirror and work in synchrony with each other and this was very evident in the relationships between the couples.

Yuko Kavaguti being swung with her head just inches above the ice
And there is also the matter of trust; the men will throw the spinning bodies of the girls very high in the air and then catch them before they hit the concrete hard ice.   It looked to me as if the girls were putting their lives at risk, but I never saw any fear in their faces, just serenity.  Sadly I never managed to sketch the throws, but I did manage this image of Yuko Kawaguti being swung with her head just inches above the ice.  A drawing like this contains a lot of license, I cannot remember the position of the man, instead I choose a position that most emphasised the flow of the line created by Yuko's taught body.   Drawings like this are far removed from photographs, they are as much about spirit as they are about sight.

And of course there were many soloist, like this male skater. 

A  Male Soloist

 I do many drawings of classical ballet, perhaps I take this experience too far in my pictures of skaters.   I think this image may be Kavaguti again, who of all the girls has the most balletic movements (see opening picture above)

Yuko Kavaguti landing from a throw

Mami is a big fan of an ice skater called Daisuke Takhashi.  Daisuke's dramatic and masterful movements and musicality has taken men's skating into new territory.  This is the only drawing I made of his movements, perhaps I will look at some videos to make some more drawings.

The dramatic masterful movements and musicality of Daisuke Takahashi

We booked our tickets very late, and for some events the tickets were sold out.  Next to the main arena was a new market building with seats and chairs and a television relaying what was happening in the main hall.  This was a wonderful opportunity for me to make sketches of the spectators.
Two Japanese Spectators

Most of the spectators are women, this man looked slightly out of place, but he was obviously enraptured by the goings on.

 This unlikely fan looked enraptured

This is Mami watching the television.  Her elegant clothes stood out against the unfussy fashion of Canadians who never try to look chic, but they make up for it by being about the friendliest and most open people I have ever come across. 

Mami stood out for her chic elegance

There were of course many lovely girls 

Just a Beautiful Girl

And the young mothers whose children are still too young to appreciate the spectacle


or simply did not have tickets to take their daughters to see the shows live

 Mother and Daughter

After the competition is over there is a Gala where the winners show off their skills and have fun.  I went to watch the rehearsals before the event, an instructor arrived with a piece of paper and within two hours she had taught the medal winners a group routine for the closing ceremony.

The Instructor

The stars all have their own quirky pieces.  Mao Asada did a sequence to the music from Mary Poppins

Mao Asada as Mary Poppins

This is a drawing of Carolina Kostner from Italy who has a very serene style of her own

Carolina Kostner from Italy

And Yuna Kim, the golden girl of the championships, came in wearing a bowler hat

Yuna Kim in a Bowler Hat

The next day we had to return to the Britain,  there had been heavy snow in Toronto which meant our flight was delayed for fourteen hours, but I did not mind because I love drawing people in airports.

Like this bored businessman

Waiting in the Airport

and this girl opening a bottle.

Girl in an Airport Canteen

and besides we were all still on a high

On Top of the World



Anonymous said...

All of these pictures, or drawings more accurately, seem to be about capturing a moment. You would think that a photograph would do a better job of capturing a moment, especially of a skater flashing by on the ice.

It is difficult to understand how these drawings capture what happened in a flash and yet they must've taken many minutes to draw.

At first, it would seem that a camera would have done a better job because, pixel for pixel, it would have been more accurate and more reliable. On reflection though, I have my doubts.

Consider the drawings of the Unlikely Fan and the Madonna and child. They capture an element of perception that is uniquely human and for some reason beyond the capacity of a camera.

Let's stack that up against what a camera would have done. Firstly the camera will capture the full image with all the background clutter that may be totally irrelevant to the emotional content of the image. Yet, our brains are trained to filter out that kind of irrelevant detail. Secondly, the images are a kind of condensation or distillation of an emotionally loaded sequence of impressions. In other words, there is a kind of iconic sequence of images or an iconic progression of images that cannot be captured by a camera but to our minds, that sequence or progression composes or represents the essence of a moment. Drawing offers a means for composing or arranging a moment that the camera has no means for.

Let me suggest a test for this. It is not the test often suggested here for the winking back of a drawing. It is a different test, and it is offered with all respect: Let's consider the 20 images that have been drawn in this post. Would they still be interesting if they were photographs? If not, then why not? Why are the images interesting where the photographs would not have been? What is it that in the images that captures our interest? How can simple lines communicate? Is it the selection? Is it the conscious choices in the detail included? I don't know. But maybe I have learned something useful here. Next time that there is an opportunity to view paintings or drawings in a gallery, this might be an interesting test: would you rather be looking at a photograph of the same scene? and if not, why not?


Julian Williams said...

Hi Pluck,

Your comments are always interesting. I know from discussing these things with you outside the confines of this blog that you are an accomplished scientist with a lot of experience of solving problems. This comes across in your observations, which are really quick off the mark for someone who has not been involved with my small niche of the world. I mean to say you are asking questions I ignored for the first 35 years of my drawing career, and ones which I have been addressing recently.

You write: "All of these pictures, or drawings more accurately, seem to be about capturing a moment."

I would want re-phrase that; "these drawings are ephemeral and capture a fleeting moment of time".

This is not nit-picking, it is key to understanding how and why they work differently from a camera. A camera freezes time - drawings of movement are composed across time, and include more than one moment. Different elements of the experience of seeing are fused into a single image. This is much closer to what happens inside the brain when it sees movement.

The brain does not do moments, it deduces what it considers to be a situation from information that is arriving out of sequence. If I stick a pin in your toe, and you are watching me do it, the information from your eye will reach your brain faster than the signal of a pain from your toe. (Because the nerves carrying the pulse from you toe have further to go). So there is a shift between the two experiences, but the brain reconstructs the experience into a single experience.

This is a really crude explanation, in truth the brain has thousands of pathways, some with feedback loops, all working in parallel, with some processes taking longer than others. The information is often conflicting information, or out of date. Natural selection hates dithering, it wants responses, so the brain is designed to make choices (which commonly include orders of restraint), but those choices/commands are always dynamic and in a state of flux. The choices are always strongly made and acted on, but they are always being changed. AND THE BRAIN FORGETS - it forgets what it discarded (unless it is something to be stored for the process of learning). All these fleeting assumptions passing through your mind (often in the subconscious), which you believed whole-heartedly 100 microseconds earlier are forgotten as quickly as they came.

Like in a garden path sentence - if someone starts a sentence "the young man the boat" We start off understanding one thing, but it makes no sense, so we go on to making a new sense out of the sentence - "the boat was manned by the young (people in the group)" It is a garden path sentence because the beginning of the sentence leads you up the garden path.

The brain is always going up garden paths, and then remaking sense of what it sees. In such a complex world there is no moment, because everything is always up in the air. There is no moment and there is no truth.

When I am drawing movement I am representing this world where neither truth or moments exist.

I have to post this reply in two parts because I have exceeded theallowed word count

Julian Williams said...

Then you go on to write "Firstly the camera will capture the full image with all the background clutter that may be totally irrelevant to the emotional content of the image. Yet, our brains are trained to filter out that kind of irrelevant detail."

Let's rephrase that "the brain is unaware of the clutter because the brain never sees it, it only sees patterns" If you look at a photograph you see the same patterns in amongst the clutter, in a good photo you can see many different patterns, but at any one period of time you will be focusing on just a few of those patterns. A photograph has many more optional ways of looking at an image. A good drawing is about focusing the attention on just a few of those options; think of the smiley which is a one horse trick. It is a pattern that focuses on one thing - happiness. Everything else has been extracted out of the image leaving you no option but to look at the image in a singular way, and to see happiness.

If you look at a smiling picture of a young girl you might feel "She is pretty, she is sexy, she is warm and open, her smile is cold, I do not trust that smile" But with a drawing the options for the way you look at the image are closed down by the artist (if he/she is a good craftsman)

I do not say drawings are more interesting than photographs, but I do think they are very different and have different uses. So when we discuss art we are discussing something that is of the mind, and defining/learning what art is will be life/society changing event, shocking like Darwin was for teh victorians. My hunch is that brain science is already turning our assumptions about art upside down, but as yet no many people are noticing something that is already well underway and happening under our noses.

Anonymous said...

Pictures are more interesting than photographs because maybe the artists add things. Photographs are like, “Ok, I am over here.” But pictures are more like “HEY! HERE I AM! LOOK AT ME!” Photographs never wink back at you.


Julian Williams said...

I love you Lilly - you are the bestest