Half Mag / Half Zine

Meet the American artist who braves Finland’s freezing temperatures to paint portraits on giant floating blocks of ice in the Baltic Sea

29-year-old David Popa creates the giant portraits by swimming out to sea in the freezing water and using charcoal and soil in a spray can to paint the surface of huge blocks of ice.

Each portrait in his “Fractured” project had to be created in around four hours as the ice floats would invariably either sink or float away.

“Initially it was a huge paradigm shift for me to convince myself that it was even possible and safe,” said Popa, a New Yorker by birth, but who lives in Finland. “I actually practiced for two winters before starting on these, it only works at almost exactly zero degrees.”

This past winter the conditions were perfect and he was able to complete his project.

David swam in a wetsuit through the freezing water to the floats he intended on painting. He also had to pack all his equipment, including a drone, into watertight bags, and carry it through the freezing water.

“The conditions were perfect, because it kept fluctuating between warmer and colder days, the ice kept freezing over and then cracking again,” said David.

In order to plan them out, David had to mark the ice and take a picture from above, which ate into how long he had on the ice, adding to the time pressure.

“After I marked the ice and take the picture, it’s go time,” he said.

The series became very popular and David sold around 100 prints of images and six video NFTs, with the most expensive one reaching just over $15,000 (£13,000).

The pieces are known as ephemeral art—designed to only last a moment before disappearing, apart from for those who bought the NFTs.

David’s choice to make his pieces on such a difficult medium stem from a love of adventure and an attempt to escape from the stuffiness of the art world.

He went to art school in Wenham, Massachusetts but was more interested in hiking and adventure. He fell in love with murals in art school, where they had a graffiti wall on which he could practice.