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A Q&A With Zaria Forman, Artist For Christie’s Global Wildlife Conservation Benefit

By Global Wildlife Conservation on September 24, 2018   duration 6 min read

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Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) changed its name to Re:wild in 2021

Zaria Forman is one of the artists participating in the Global Wildlife Conservation benefit with Christie’s. The funds and matching funds generated from this drawing will purchase and preserve land from one of the last unprotected cloud forests in the Americas.

Zaria creates incredible pastel drawings of remote landscapes, many in the Arctic and Antarctica, to document the effects of climate change.  She works without any drawing tools, applying the pigment solely with her hands. Her stunning, large-scale works draw viewers in to examine the fragility of Earth’s icy frontiers. They also earned her invitations to sail on National Geographic expeditions and fly with NASA science missions over both poles. Zaria’s work has been exhibited in a range of lauded museums and galleries, she delivered a TEDTalk, and spoke with Amazon, Google, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Her next solo show Overview opens at Winston Wächter Fine Art in New York on October 25, 2018.

We caught up with Zaria to discuss the connection between art and nature.

Q: How does nature inspire your work and influence your creative process?

A: Nature feeds my creative process and it’s where all of my drawings begin. 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, and the photographs, to create large-scale compositions.

As I child, I was lucky enough to travel with my family to some of the world’s most remote landscapes. This ignited my 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.

My motivation as an artist has always been to evoke an emotional connectedness to these dramatic and fragile places and to forge a sense of stewardship. Because few people are able to experience these remote landscapes themselves, the massive size of my drawings serves to physically and emotionally envelop the viewer, facilitating both intimacy and awe.

Zaria Forman, Jakobshavn Glacier, Greenland, 69° 47′ 31.092″N 49° 47′ 31.7076″W, April 29th, 2017, soft pastel on paper, 108 3/8 x 68 in. (150.8 x 242.6 cm.), Executed in 2018. Donated by the artist and Winston Wächter Fine Art, New York Zaria Forman, Jakobshavn Glacier, Greenland, 69° 47′ 31.092″N 49° 47′ 31.7076″W, April 29th, 2017, soft pastel on paper, 108 3/8 x 68 in. (150.8 x 242.6 cm.), Executed in 2018. Donated by the artist and Winston Wächter Fine Art, New York

Q: What can your art teach people about the natural world?

A: 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 act and make decisions based on emotion above all else. Studies have shown that art impacts our emotions more effectively than a scary news report.

The remote regions I draw are the keystones of climate change but are inaccessible to most people. I draw as much precise detail as I can in order to transport the viewer to a place that is otherwise distant and abstract. I convey the beauty of these vulnerable landscapes, as opposed to their devastation, to inspire viewers to help protect and preserve them.

Q: How do you choose the locations you depict in your work? Why is the Arctic especially inspiring to you?

A: The first time I visited the Arctic was in 2007, when I traveled to Greenland with my family. At the time I only knew of climate change as a distant concept—people weren’t talking about it and it wasn’t in the news all the time like it is now. In Greenland, however, it was a topic of daily discussions. All the visitors were newscasters coming to write about it, and scientists coming to study it. The locals were having to adapt their lifestyles on a daily basis in order to survive. Hearing these conversations and witnessing the ice first-hand for one month opened my eyes to the severity of the climate crisis, and I immediately made it the focus of my work. Ice is an endless source of inspiration for my drawings for several technical and visual reasons, but it also represents a major issue of our time, that deserves all the attention we can give it.

Q: You paint without brushes, instead using your palms and fingers. Why?

A: I find that by using my hands, I have more control over the colors and I can maintain an intimacy with the landscape I’m portraying. I love the simplicity of the process: cut the paper, make the marks. There isn’t much room for error or re-working since the paper’s tooth can hold only a few thin layers of pigment and I rarely use an eraser.  I enjoy the challenge of resolving “mistakes” with limited marks, and this process 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!

Q: How do you feel about your work helping to conserve a tropical cloud forest?

A: Words cannot adequately express how overjoyed I am at the opportunity! Preserving biodiverse, old growth forests like this one is a crucial step in solving the climate crisis. Trees absorb and store massive amounts of carbon, helping to keep it out of the air. Estimates suggest as much as a third of climate emissions could be offset by stopping deforestation and restoring forest land, especially in the tropics.

The Christie’s auction offers a direct and tangible way that the art community, both makers and buyers, can contribute positive change. The impact my work has on our planet and global society has, until now, been unmeasurable. I make art hoping to inspire deeper understanding, action and positive change, but quantifying the results is impossible. This project allows me to experience a measurable, visible and tangible way that my work is helping our planet and all the living beings it sustains, and that is truly the best gift I could ever ask for.

Process shot of Zaria Forman at work on Jakobshavn Glacier, Greenland, 69° 47’31.092″N 49° 47′ 31.7076″W, April 29th, 2017. Process shot of Zaria Forman at work on Jakobshavn Glacier, Greenland, 69° 47’31.092″N 49° 47′ 31.7076″W, April 29th, 2017.

Q: Tough question: Where are your top five places on Earth?

A: I think more often it’s the moments we have in these places that are memorable, and that move us to feel more deeply about one over another. Here are some of my favorite moments!

  1. Hiking inside an ice cave in Svalbard, Norway, that melts and re-freezes every year–it feels like you’re inside a giant sparkling diamond. I especially love Svalbard in the springtime, when the sun hovers in the golden hour all day long, and the sunsets go on for several hours.
  2. Sunrises over the Indian Ocean in the Maldives.
  3. Walking on a beach in South Georgia, littered with penguins, elephant seals and glittering chunks of ice.
  4. Kayaking amidst vibrant, crackling, sapphire blue icebergs in Antarctica.
  5. Boating around ice fjords and walking on spongy tundra in Greenland, happening unexpectedly on places that look like Yosemite in remote regions with no trails or people for miles.

To learn more about Zaria’s work and the other artists participating in the Global Wildlife Conservation benefit, go to the private auction catalog.

About the author

Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation.

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