A mural fit for champions

In her youth, Lillian Loponen was a “kamikaze downhill ski racer.” She used to “swim like a dolphin.

In her youth, Lillian Loponen was a “kamikaze downhill ski racer.”

She used to “swim like a dolphin.”

But today she’s traded slaloms and breaststrokes for brushstrokes.

Loponen is a local watercolour painter with nearly 30 years of experience with a brush, and a studio at the Yukon Artists at Work collective in McCrae.

This year, Loponen won the city’s contract to design the 2007 Canada Winter Games mural.

And now the six 1.2-by-2.4-metre panels are gracing the rotunda above city hall’s Steele Street entrance.

On Thursday, the mayor will light up the mural in a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony to start the clock on the 99-day countdown to the Games.

Loponen’s mural pays tribute to the sport and culture components in the Games.

With a fiddler, a dancer, a drummer and Shane Wilson’s carved antler torch, the first panel depicts heritage and culture at the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies.

Four of the panels each represent a different sport — downhill skiing, ice hockey, wheelchair basketball, speed skating.

The other culture panel shows Don Watt’s award-winning snow sculptures depicting a Mountie flanked by a roaring grizzly and the Robert Service legend the Shooting of Dan McGrew.

Curved peaks snake their way through all six panels evoking the territory’s snow-capped mountain ranges.

Each banner is topped with the Canada Games logo and bears Loponen’s signature.

She calls the six-piece mural Fluid Excellence.

It’s a title coined to draw a parallel between the focus, skill and talent of the seasoned artist and the top-notch athlete.

When art and sport are done well, they look easy, explained Loponen.

“For a trained athlete or an artist, the fluidity, the movement, the motion is so smooth and so exact.”

A watercolour artist by trade, Loponen used this opportunity to try her hand at painting with pixels.

Armed with a few loose guidelines steering the mural’s size and content, she hunkered down at her computer to create her six-part digital masterpiece.

She began with 65 images of athletes and artisans from past Games, and some from her own collection.

She scanned them into her computer, sliced them up and selected the figures she wanted to use.

Then she played with the images in Adobe Photoshop. She added filtres to make the photos look like paintings; she cut and layered and blended colours until they became works of art.

It took 30 years of experience with watercolours and seven with Photoshop.

“When you put the hi-tech with the art techniques, it just turns out so well,” said Loponen.

She soon discovered that everything she could do with a brush and paint, she could do with a mouse and computer screen.

The images were inked onto white dibond aluminum by a printer down south, then coated with protective laminate so they’re made to withstand all the wind and weather a Yukon winter can dish out.

The six panels are a continuation of Loponen’s mural already installed above the family ice at the Canada Games Centre titled Where Dreams Begin.

Loponen has been in the Yukon for 30 years, but she originally hails from Northwest Ontario, where she grew up, got married, had kids … “yada yada yada — you know,” she said with a laugh.

She began seriously painting when she had her first son.

“I was taking university and taking care of a baby, but the artwork was something I needed to do for me to satisfy my own needs — if I’m happy, everybody’s happy.

“It’s the same old cliché,” she said with a smile.

Today her work already graces the walls of many Yukon heritage buildings like the Beringia Interpretive Centre, the Transportation Museum, the Keno City Mining Museum and the Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing.

After the Games, the Fluid Excellence banners will be hung in the Games centre.

These days Loponen is busy in her studio preparing work for a solo show at the Yukon Arts Centre gallery slated for April.

Although working on the show will keep her busy through this winter’s Games, Loponen plans to hit the pool to reinvigorate her love for swimming.

And who knows? she said. Maybe she’ll get back into “swimming-like-a-dolphin” shape and represent the Yukon in the 2008 Canada Senior Games.