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Zaria Forman: Illuminating Climate Change Through Art

From the Artists.

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Tell us about yourself and your art. Where did it all begin? What inspires you to create?

{Zaria Forman} The inspiration for my drawings began in my early childhood, when I traveled with my family throughout several of the world’s most remote landscapes, which became the subject of my mother's fine art photography. I developed an appreciation for the beauty and vastness of the ever-changing sky and sea. I loved watching a far-off storm on the western desert plains, the monsoon rains of southern India, and the cold arctic light illuminating Greenland's waters.

I have very fond memories of our family trips and consider them a vital part of my upbringing and education. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to see so much of the world, and to learn first-hand about cultures so vastly different from my own. This myriad of experiences instilled in me a love of exploring and a need to continue exploring and learning for the rest of my life.

How do you use your art to make a difference in the world?

{ZF} Artists play a critical role in communicating climate change, which is arguably the most important challenge we face as a global community. I have dedicated my career to translating and illuminating scientists’ warnings and statistics through an accessible medium, one that moves us in a way that statistics may not.  Psychology tells us that humans take action and make decisions based on emotion above all else. Studies have shown that art can impact our emotions more effectively than a scary news report. My drawings explore moments of transition, turbulence, and tranquility in the landscape, allowing viewers to emotionally connect with a place they may never have the chance to visit. I choose to convey the beauty as opposed to the devastation of threatened places. If people can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, perhaps they will be inspired to protect and preserve them.

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What materials do you use for your art?

{ZF} Lenox 100 paper is not what most pastel artists would want, because it doesn’t have much tooth, and therefore it cannot absorb as much pigment as a toothier paper could. But this is the precise reason why I love it! The smooth texture of the surface allows me to render very fine details. A toothier paper would get in the way of that. Although the amount of pigment I can layer is limited, I actually prefer this challenge as well because it requires me to be a better artist. There is not much room for error or re-working, so every mark must be intentional and precise.

What’s the process like from your travel to beginning a new piece? How is the image chosen you’re going to draw?

{ZF} When I travel, I take thousands of photographs. I often make a few small sketches on-site to get a feel for the landscape. Once I return to the studio, I draw from my memory of the experience, as well as from the photographs, to create large-scale compositions. Occasionally I will re-invent the water or sky, alter the shape of the ice, or mix and match a few different images to create the composition I envision. I begin with a very simple pencil sketch so I have a few major lines to follow, and then I add layers of pigment onto the paper, smudging everything with my palms and fingers and breaking the pastel into sharp shards to render finer details.

The process of choosing which images to draw is long and difficult! But there are always a few moments that stand out on each trip, where the landscape and light line up in magical ways, and I know immediately that I’ll make a drawing of it. I tend to jump right to those moments when I begin a new body of work, so I can start drawing before I go through the rest of my photos and memories.

Disco Bay, Greenland

Disco Bay, Greenland

What’s your favorite piece and why?
{ZF} Whichever drawing I'm working on. The works are like my babies, they mean more to me than anything else I possess! That said, there are a few drawings that have personal significance, like my drawings of Jakobshavn Glacier or of the icebergs that calved from it into Disco Bay, Greenland. Jakobshavn glacier was the first glacier I ever saw, in 2007 with my family. I returned five years later to spread my mother’s ashes in Disco Bay.

How do you display your finished art? Do you use any fixatives? What about framing?

{ZF} I sometimes use SpectraFix pastel fixative, but mostly on the larger pieces, to minimize pastel dust collecting on the inside of the plexiglass once it’s framed.  I have the paper mounted onto dibond in order to have a rigid and supportive structure transportation and drawing, which also makes it easier to frame when the work is finished. My works are float-framed with museum non-reflective glass.

What do you hope to accomplish with your work in the next few years?

{ZF} I would like  as many people as possible to see my work, and to have a moment in which they feel transported to these remote places at the forefront of climate change. If they can experience these landscapes that otherwise might seem disconnected from our everyday life, but are in fact critical to our global climate system, perhaps they will be inspired to take action to protect and preserve this planet that sustains us, so future human generations may thrive. I hope my drawings can facilitate a deeper understanding of the climate crisis, helping us find meaning and optimism in shifting landscapes.

The Midway Gallery & Artist Studios

The Midway Gallery & Artist Studios