A thick mist twists through the rows of birch trees; their silver bark glistens despite the sun’s absence. The propelling wind stiffens my face, and my breath forms around me as my eyes move up the trees. Charcoal-gray knots strike the metallic trunks perpendicular to their tall frames. Farther up the trunks, fragile limbs desperately stretch out to crisscross one another, but the cold stunts their growth. The birches climb into oozing clouds and dissolve into the horizon’s haze deep within the forest.
Snow flurries weave throughout the corridors of bark and branch and drop on the white canvas of the forest floor. Around my feet, the dried remnants of ferns and fallen leaves struggle to prop up the ivory snow. As I survey this chaotic composition, I discover that I am not alone.
A man perches on the bed of snow, perfectly still. A fur coat envelops his body, yet his face is exposed, vulnerable. The man’s face has grown purple from the wind’s cold sting but now freezes pale with fear. For close by stalks a golden wolf.
Chunks of snow dot the wolf’s glossy mane. His ears dart back, anticipating the slightest sound. I hold my breath. Half-smiling, half-snarling, this wolf bares his ferocious teeth at the man. I expect to see him quake with terror. Instead, he sits, stoic, and shuts his eyes. I must be mistaken. Confused and curious, I inch closer. As I change my perspective, the entire frame before me shifts.
The man’s once-frost-bitten face melts into hues of violet and carmine; his fur coat blurs into blots of auburn paint. The detailed brushstrokes that construct his profile match those of his predator’s snout. These strokes, however, become reckless as I move down the wolf’s spine. Frenzied lumps of white, silver, and bright ochre paint create the belly of the beast. I twist my head around to view the entire, new work of art.
Shades of umber and sienna intertwine to form an oily forest floor, weighed down by opaque clumps of titanium white. Thick, spontaneous strokes of snowy white engulf the man, while the wolf treads on their surface. Globs of white paint splatter the entire background. Long tails of paint chase behind the clumps, mimicking the painter’s gestures.
The birch trunks rise off the canvas, as coats of white, gray, and navy paint construct an uneven relief. Knots, twigs, and limbs carve into the layers with dark, decisive strokes. Watery smears of gray condense and form transparent clouds, floating up nearly ten feet. There, the canvas meets a silver frame, which accentuates the bark’s shine, the wolf’s sheen.
I now see the painting in its entirety, edge to edge. Three strong lights illuminate the canvas: makeshift sunlight. The white of the supporting gallery wall highlights the whites of snow, mist, and fur. I stand before the painting and realize once more that I am not alone.
A Biennale assistant announces that the exhibition is closing for the night. I peer back one final time at the massive painting, the frozen scene that consumed me. Exiting, I turn and notice the triumphal arch of the Romanian Pavilion. The colossal cement pillars weigh on me. As the sun slips toward the Adriatic, a cool breeze hits my neck. I button up my coat and adjust my wool scarf. Heading back home, I wish nothing more than to stay lost in those birches.
Fragments from photographs of Persian Miniature and the Romanian Pavilion