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Queer Visual Culture
Happy Birthday, Toller Cranston
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/20/12
Last updated on: 04/20/12
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Detail from a painting by Toller Cranston.

On April 20, 2012, Toller Cranston's 63rd birthday, it is fitting to remember that the acclaimed figure skater is also an excellent painter.

At his Inner Bouquet blog, David-Paul Erhart reminisces about the significance of Toller Cranston for him when he was growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, a hockey town where "boys who figure skated were branded and taunted." Even though figure skating was what he loved most, Erhart quit at age 14, only to return later when he was a student at the University of Toronto.

Soon after graduating, Erhart had an opportunity to meet Cranston, who at the time was "performing at a level of innovation and artistry that was revolutionary to men's figure skating." He notes that Cranston's crowning moment at a skater came in the 1976 winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, where he won the bronze medal.

Erhart observes that the only reason Cranston never won Olympic gold "was the 'school figures' which were such an integral part of competition until they were discarded after 1990. He won the free skating part of three world championships but his marks in the figures wouldn't permit him to climb any higher than third place." But even without winning an Olympic gold medal, Cranston is widely regarded as one of the greatest figure skaters of the twentieth century.

But in addition to being a great skater, Cranston is also an accomplished artist, whose work has been exhibited all over the world. Indeed, when Erhart met Cranston, he was already becoming known as a painter. Then unable to afford an original oil painting, the young Erhart purchased a poster that has been meaningful to him all the years since.

As Linda Rapp explains, "Throughout his life [Cranston] has devoted himself to painting. His artwork shows the same imagination, exuberance, and flair as his skating." Just as his skating is very individualistic, so he "developed a painting style that favors magical subjects, attenuated figures, and vibrant color and energy."

The video below, from ESPN Classic Canada, explains and illustrates Cranston's distinctive qualities as a skater.

The videos below provide a glimpse into Cranston's garden and studio in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, and into the artist's creative process.

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