Zaria Forman I ARTIST
"This myriad of experiences instilled in me a love and need to continue exploring and learning for the rest of my life."
Where did you grow up? Describe that place and its people…
I grew up in Piermont, NY, about 30 min north of NYC. I went to Green Meadow Waldorf school from 6th grade through high school - a very small school with an alternative approach to education, in which art is greatly infused. I taught yoga for 10 years. I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon, so it’s really the years that trained me, but I did major in Studio Art at Skidmore College.
What were you like as a child? What did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress and a singer. Typical girl stuff! I was pretty shy as a child, and began crawling out of my shell around age 14.
When did you first leave home? Where did you go?
This is a tricky question since I traveled a great deal growing up. When I was 16 I did a student exchange program for one semester and lived with a family in Strasbourg, France, for four months. I guess I “officially” left home when I went to college in 2001.
When did you come to NYC? Was there a particular reason you wanted to come here?
I moved to Brooklyn one year after graduating college, and have lived here ever since. NYC is arguably the “art capital” and seemed like the perfect place to begin my career as an artist. It helped that it was familiar, having grown up just 30 miles north of Manhattan.
Is there something about NYC that is especially inspiring to you?
In terms of my career, not particularly. I tend to work so much in my studio in Brooklyn, that I don’t take advantage of all that the city has to offer. That being said, I do try to visit museums, galleries, concerts, theater, etc as often as I can, and am often inspired when i do. In all honesty though, I get most of my inspiration (in NYC) from Prospect Park since I only live half a block from it!
What drew you to seek out and and explore the landscapes that you feature in your art?
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 and need to continue exploring and learning for the rest of my life.
If your work could speak, what would it say? What would the message be?
Studies have shown that art can impact viewers’ emotions more effectively than an essay or a doom and gloom newspaper article. Neuroscience tells us that humans take action and make decisions based on emotion above all else. My career is dedicated to translating and illuminating scientists’ warnings and statistics into an accessible medium that people can connect with, on a level that might be deeper than scientific facts can penetrate.
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. If people can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, perhaps they will be inspired to protect and preserve them.
What motivates to you to do what you do?
Artists play a critical role in communicating climate change, which is arguably the most important challenge we face as a global community. The severity of the climate crisis really hit me when I visited Greenland for the first time in 2006. I felt both the power and the fragility of the landscape there. The sheer size, majesty, and beauty of the icebergs is humbling. The ice fjords are alive with movement and thunderous cracking – reminders of their destructive capabilities. Yet while their threatening potential is evident, so is their vulnerability: I could see the ice melting under the unseasonably warm sun.
The severity of the situation was brought to light even more clearly in conversations I had with locals. Their landscape is transforming so drastically that they are forced to adapt in order to survive. They spoke of vast ice fjords that are not freezing as they once did, challenging the lifestyle of the subsistence hunting communities that dot the coastlines. The fjords are the communities’ hunting grounds for seal, walrus, and other animals that provide sustenance, warmth and other crucial items necessary for Arctic survival. Insufficient ice severely limits their hunting grounds. Greenland has no railways, no inland waterways, and virtually no roads between towns. Their major method of transportation is by boat around the coast in summer and by dog sled in winter (which, ten years ago, made up most of the year). Without frozen fjords, their dogs and sleds are rendered useless, and many cannot afford to travel very far by boat. This is just one of enumerable ways the warming Arctic is affecting the Inuit way of life.
What is your creative process? materials?
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 drawing with pastels is simple and straightforward: cut the paper, make the marks. The material demands a minimalistic approach, as there isn't much room for error or re-working since the paper’s tooth can hold only a few thin layers of pigment. I rarely use an eraser –– I prefer to work with my “mistakes,” enjoying the challenge of resolving them with limited marks. I love the simplicity of the process, and it has taught me a great deal about letting go. I become easily lost in tiny details, and if the pastel and paper did not provide limitations, I fear I would never know when to stop, or when a composition were complete!
Favorite artists right now?
My mother, Rena Bass Forman, was a wonderful fine art photographer. Her aesthetic has significantly influenced my work, or perhaps it is simply in my genes! She took inspiration from early 19th century photography, and particularly the work of Dunmore and Critcherson, the two photographers William Bradford brought with him on his expedition to Greenland in 1869. I learned of Bradford’s paintings from my mother, and was immediately enchanted by his representations of the Arctic landscape. I especially admire Bradford’s (and, for that matter, Turner’s) sense of color, light, and form. Robert Longo’s water and planetary drawings have always been a huge inspiration as well. Vija Celmins, and Dozier Bell too.
What are some accomplishments you are most proud of?
Just to name a few…
I studied at the Student Art Centers International in Florence, Italy and received a BS in Studio Arts at Skidmore College in New York. My works have been in publications such as Juxtapoz Magazine, National Geographic Magazine, Huffington Post, and the Smithsonian Magazine. I was featured on Good Day New York, Fox News, and interviewed by Lucy Yang on ABC7 Eyewitness News.
Recent achievements include participation in Banksy's Dismaland, speaking at a live TED event at the Town Hall Theater in NYC, and a solo exhibition at Winston Wächter Fine Art in New York in September and October of 2015. My drawings have been used in the set design for the Netflix TV series House of Cards.
In August 2012 I led Chasing the Light, an expedition sailing up the NW coast of Greenland, retracing the 1869 journey of American painter William Bradford and documenting the rapidly changing arctic landscape. Continuing to address climate change in my work, I traveled multiple times to the Maldives, the lowest-lying country in the world, and arguably the most vulnerable to rising sea levels.
And, I am very excited to report that I have been invited aboard the National Geographic Explorer as an artist-in-residence this coming November and December, traveling to Antarctica. My next solo show will take place at Winston Wächter Fine Art’s Seattle location, in February and March of 2017.
Do you have advice for anyone who wants to live a more creative life?
You must be very passionate about making art. It needs to be a necessity. There is never a guarantee that it will pay your bills, so you have to love it no matter what! I also think it is very important to find out what subject you are most passionate about, and create art based on that. If you are following your heart, it will come through in the work, and viewers will respond.
What does the word authentic mean to you? How does your work allow you to live authentically?
Authenticity is important to me. I strive to live in it, and I surround myself with other people who do the same. We are authentic, or genuine, when our actions and words are in-line with our beliefs. I grew up appreciating and loving the natural world. That passion translates into doing what I can to protect and preserve it from unnatural destruction. I believe climate change is the most critical crisis we face as a global community, and so I consider it my life’s mission to convey this urgency with the skills that I have: art. I am grateful that my drawings affect viewers on an emotional level. I find it crucial to leverage that power for the greater good, something we can all benefit from.
Do you have any “rituals” to you get you ready for the day? help you find balance? escape?
For the past three years I have been working at a fairly unsustainable pace, and although I am able to keep up a yoga practice usually, during the busiest times I often fail at keeping a good balance. I am learning how to say “no” to wonderful opportunities that present themselves. Of course it’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless… my instinct is to say yes to everything, biting off more than I can chew.
Moving forward, it will be a matter of saying “no” more, as well as creating, (and therefore exhibiting) less work per year, in order to make sure the rest of my life is balanced. Balance is a priority for me, but as I said, I slid off-track a bit in the last few years while my career started demanding more from me. Yoga, travel, time spent in nature, eating healthy and sleeping well are all priorities for me! No matter how busy I am though, I do make sure I sleep eight hours every night, otherwise I can’t function!
Any badass women you love? Dead or alive? Is there any woman dead or alive that you would want to have dinner with?
As I have mentioned, my mother is a huge inspiration for my art and the way I live my life. My mother dedicated her life to photographing the most remote regions of the earth. The cold and isolated landscape of the Arctic consumed her interest from 2001 until her passing in 2011. She always said that she had been a polar bear in a past life, and watching her spend endless hours in the frigid winds, patiently and happily waiting for the moment when the light was right, gave me no doubts that this was true! She taught me the importance of loving what you do, and carrying out projects full force, no matter what obstacles lay in the way. She created her own series of journey’s entitled Chasing the Light and the Greenlandic expedition would have been the third in the trilogy. Her work from her Arctic trips have been compared to 19th century photographers John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson who were on William Bradford’s expedition that she wanted to mirror. She was inspired by Bradford’s journey, and did extensive research, even finding glass plate negatives from the trip by Dunmore and Critcherson.
Her sickness and passing was by far the most challenging experience of my life. I had never before faced such a tremendous loss. The mourning process I went through (and continue to go through) shaped and paralleled the concept of the trip to Greenland, which in turn had significant effects on my art. I often thumb through my mother's negatives and contact sheets from the trips we took together, to find inspiration for my drawings. I have referenced a few of her photographs to create Greenland no's 71 and 72 [pictured above] that were in my solo show at Winston Wachter Fine Art, NY this past fall.
Above all though, her dedication, passion, and perseverance continue to inspire me. She would spend hours on an icy cliff edge, waiting for the sunlight to illuminate the frame through her camera lens that she had chosen, smiling and happy, long after the rest of the family's toes had gone numb. We would whine and complain, urging her to call it a day so we could return indoors and have a warm meal, and she wouldn't budge until she knew she had captured what she wanted.
Fulfilling my mother's dream to follow Bradford's voyage in Greenland was one of the most meaningful gifts my mother gave me.