Taking To The Ice
By Robert Beck
I grew up near an old canal, and in the winter I would skate for miles through the countryside, then turn around and skate back. Me alone, with the smell of the damp wool scarf against my face and the blades slicing and chattering as I flew across the landscape. Gliding through the mist that rises from the ice as the morning sun heats the air is sublime. That’s what I thought of while I worked on this painting.
It was unseasonably warm when I painted at Wollman Rink. The elevated walk along the side gave me a great vantage to set up. I enjoyed describing the gestures and capturing the movement and energy. The mass of people on the ice has an uneven fluidity. There are people taking it easy, people in their way, and people zipping through the gaps. Then they clean the ice and everybody goes the other direction, which makes it feel like I’m painting against the grain.
Some people bring their memories and their dreams with them to the rink. You can spot those skaters. Others are just trying to figure out how to do it. Learning is not without bruises, but it ingrains over time. I played hockey for 20-some years and was pretty good on skates. Then I stopped, and my supple skills began to ossify. No more do I take stairs two or three at a time, nor do I move through life with athletic elan. I get around okay for a guy my age, but I know better than to put my skates on. Still have ‘em in the basement, in the bag of equipment I haven’t worn in thirty years. I know if I got back on the ice, I would do fine for a while until I overcooked it, and BAM, I’d go down. I’ve always been one to probe limits, but it’s been too long, and I don’t tolerate bams like I used to.
When you get a handle on it, skating feels wonderful. There is music to it, like dance. Moving becomes effortless. You sail. The breeze on your face belongs to you. I can see people at the rink enjoying all of that. An antidote to concrete and asphalt. But here and there is a person with arms and legs going in too many directions at once. That’s a bam in the making.