On a cold day at the beginning of the year, when the air was still crisp with the smell of new year, I found myself sifting through the web and stumbled upon Zaria Forman. Her paintings take your breath away, her style and her strokes are so realistic they carry you into the pictures as if you were on the other side of that landscape, admiring the contours.
An artist who got me excited, not only by her works, but for her great kindness and willingness to share with me very delicate parts of her life.
We interviewed her for you after an entertaining exchange of emails from Milan to New York.
When did you start working on your projects? Could you tell me more about your education, your experiences and your background?
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. After my formal art training at Skidmore college I now exhibit extensively in galleries and venues throughout the United States and overseas.
In addition to exhibitions, recent projects include a series of drawings that served as the set design for the classic ballet Giselle, which premiered in October 2012 at the Grand Theatre of Geneva, Switzerland (see the drawings and performance photos on the Giselle page) Ten of my drawings were also used in the set design for House of Cards, a Netflix TV series directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey.
In August 2012 I led Chasing the Light, an art expedition sailing up the northwest coast of Greenland, retracing the 1869 journey of American painter William Bradford and artistically documenting the rapidly changing arctic landscape. Continuing to address climate change in my work, I spent September 2013 in the Maldives, the lowest-lying country in the world, and arguably the most vulnerable to rising sea levels.
I read on your website that some of your drawings used to be part of the set design of a classical ballet, Giselle. Could you tell me more about this experience? How was it working with such a different medium such as the stage, and in an environment so unconventional such as galleries or museums?
Creating the Giselle series was a far more collaborative experience than I had ever done. I worked very closely with the choreographer to choose images and settle on the composition before I would move forward to draw it. This was challenging on the one hand, but also forced me explore textures and surfaces that I never would have previously attempted. The Giselle drawings are completely different from my landscapes and therefore required a completely different technique which was refreshing. Returning to my landscapes, I had more confidence to push my own boundaries farther.
I created the drawings in my studio, and the Geneva theatre used high quality images to blow up and print to fit the stage. The set designer created a series of light boxes that framed each image, and the boxes would move on and off the stage. The flower image was projected onto the 60ft backdrop for the second act. It was thrilling to see my work on such a large scale, and to experience how the dancers brought it to life with movement. I look forward to working with theater’s more in the future!
I think Greenland 2012 is an incredible project. Could you tell me more about it?
I led an art expedition titled Chasing the Light up the NW coast of Greenland in August, 2012. It was the second expedition to this area whose mission was to create art inspired by the dramatic geography. The first was in 1869, led by the American painter William Bradford. His team traveled aboard the Panther to the 79th parallel when they were stopped by ice.
My mother, renowned artist Rena Bass Forman, dedicated her life to photographing the most remote regions of the earth and was inspired by Bradford’s journey. The cold and isolated landscape of the Arctic consumed her interest for the past ten years. She created her own series of journey’s entitled Chasing the Light and the Greenlandic expedition is 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 Bradford’s expedition. Chasing the Light retraced Bradford’s journey in Greenland and artistically documented the rapidly changing landscape. My mother was in the early stages of planning this trip when she fell victim to a devastating brain tumor that took over her body and mind. Sadly, she passed away soon after Thanksgiving 2011.
During the months of my mother’s illness, her dedication to the Greenland expedition never wavered. I promised I would carry out her final journey to honor her. With the help of Milbry Polk, I assembled a team of artists and scholars making a fine compliment to Bradford’s journey. By following Bradford’s route we found seven exact locations photographed by Dunmore and Critcherson. Seeing the same landscape 147 years later, it was astonishing to witness both the similarities and differences. I scattered my mother’s ashes throughout the journey amongst crackling ice diamonds, on the towering peak of one of earth’s oldest stones and under the green glow of northern lights. She is now a part of the landscape she loved so much, and I am so thankful for the team, and for the Wanderbird crew and captains for helping me realize her dream.
Your drawings are so real and emotional. What do you hope to communicate through them?
The inspiration for my drawings began in my early childhood when I traveled with my family throughout several of the worlds 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. In my work I explore moments of transition, turbulence and tranquility in the landscape and their impact on the viewer. In this process I am reminded of how small we are when confronted with the powerful forces of nature. The act of drawing can be a meditation for me, and my hope is that the viewer can share this experience of tranquil escape when engaging the work.
In many of these works you draw the stormy sea. Why did you choose to represent it in this way?
Wherever we live, we need water to survive. Not only is the human body sixty percent water, but water is also essential for producing the things we need like food, clothing, and computers; moving our waste stream; and keeping us and the environment healthy. The seas are never still; from one moment to the next the composition changes entirely. I attempt to evoke this movement in my drawings. I think of water as a metaphor for life – constantly transforming, both fearsomely and beautifully.
With my Greenland and Svalbard series’I attempt to capture the ephemeral properties of arctic light. I am interested in the element of water and how it absorbs and reflects the light in its various forms. The forms that we easily recognize are ice, water, cloud, and fog; these are essential elements that inspire my compositions. I am also interested in the transition between these states and enjoy the challenge of translating such sublime experiences into my work. The different forms of illuminated water give rise to the dreamy, atmospheric scenes that I hope will transport the viewer to this remote region of the earth. I am grateful to have the opportunity to visit such places and enjoy the challenge of conveying their beauty. Perhaps if people can experience these sublime landscapes, they will be inspired to protect and preserve them.
Are you inspired by someone or something in particular? Which techniques do you prefer? And why?
At the moment, landscape and the natural world is what inspires me most. When I travel, I take thousands of photographs and make small sketches. Once I am back in the studio, I draw from my memory of the experience, as well as the photographs to create large scale compositions. I add layers of color onto the paper, smudging everything with my fingers and hand.
William Bradford, J.M.W. Turner, Clifford Ross and Robert Longo are just a few of the many artists that inspire me.
What are your plans for the future? Are you planning some new exhibitions?
At the moment I am entirely focused on my solo show that opens June 10th in Seattle, at Winston Wachter Fine Art. It will feature the Greenland and Maldives work, and make a connection to the melting ice, rising seas, and drowning island nations. Two other artists that came to Greenland and the Maldives with me, Lisa Lebofsky and Drew Denny, are also working with me as a collective called “Ice to Islands”. We are working towards exhibitions that will include our work as well as other artists focusing on the same subjects. We also intend to have an educational component to these exhibitions, including panel discussions with scientists, writers, and artists. In terms of travel, I very much want to visit Antarctica next to compare the poles and draw the southern ice, but nothing is set in stone!