Skating on a painting at the WinterCity Festival

With a bucket of coloured water in his hand, Gordon Halloran shuffles across Nathan Phillips Square.  He pulls off his gloves and with a paintbrush dabs the water into the cracks of blue and yellow ice slabs.

Then Halloran takes a water hose and floods the coloured array of ice.  Twenty-four hours later, he has finished the 60-by-40 painting and it’s ready for the public to skate on.

“It’s a long and mysterious process,” Halloran said. “I’m more interested in just the beauty of that blue piece against that yellow, the red and the orange.”
Gordon Halloran first dabbled in ice paintings in 1990.

Given a Canadian Art’s Council grant, he worked with the City of Vancouver to paint the ice of a small community rink. Then he painted the for the world figure skating championship in Edmonton and for the Olympic Plaza in Calgary.

He painted the ice rink at Nathan Phillips Square for Toronto’s WinterCity Festival. Halloran calls his ice installation Paintings Below Zero.

People will stop and stare

Grant Ramsay, a City of Toronto special events programmer, estimated that 300,000 people will stop and stare at the large refrigeration plates hung in the Ice Gallery. “It features an 80-foot wall of 3-D ice paintings, up to 10 feet high,” Ramsay said.

Jaz Halloran, the artist’s son and one of the ice technicians, said that the crew started the painting for Nathan Phillips Square on Dec. 15.  It’s the freezing of the ice and the setting of the colours that takes most of the time.

“We wait for the thing to freeze,” Gordon Halloran said. “Wait to see how it froze and select some patterns that were created.”

The process consists of colouring, freezing and breaking the slabs into workable pieces.

“[The ice] freezes into large cookie trays of colour,” Jaz Halloran said. “We take chunks and freeze them in another tray of colour. Then we lift it up and drop it so it smashes.”

The different generations, or layering of colours within the ice, stand out against the white backdrop of ice at Nathan Phillips Square. The layers and the freezing formations also add texture to the paintings.

“The way the water reacts with the pigment and freezes,” Jaz Halloran said, “creates interesting patterns, colours and crystal structure.”

‘It’s like a glacial center for me’

Halloran arranged the pieces of ice in the Ice Gallery to flow from warm reds and oranges to cool greens and blues in the centre.

“It’s like a glacial centre for me,” Gordon Halloran said. “Like pieces falling off a glacier, breaking and moving out into the ocean and melting.”

Halloran uses only ice for his paintings.  His summer months are spent designing and drawing his plans for other large cold venues.

“There is no other medium I’ve found that expresses colour as intensely or beautifully,” Halloran said. “Plus, I’m walking around on my painting; it’s way beyond what you can get on canvas.”

Like Halloran’s representation of a melting glacier, the ice paintings melt as well.  The Zamboni machine also reduces the painting on the ice rink.
“The rink is being maintained,” Ramsay said.

“But between the Zamboni and skaters we hope it lasts until Feb 8. Maybe longer.”

Halloran, has plans to paint for Millennium Park in Chicago, Rockefeller Center in New York, Canary Wharf in London and the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.