Interview: Zaria Forman

By / Jan 12th, 2014 / / No comments

Zaria Forman draws with her hands. She slips on a pair of surgical gloves and applies pastels directly onto the paper using her fingers, working down the page. The hyperrealism of her work in particular stands out, and her ability to draw water and ice is truly incredible. 

Zaria is interested in the shifting landscape of the earth and her art shows the world beginning to be altered by climate change. In August 2012 she led Chasing the Light, an art expedition sailing up the northwest coast of Greenland, and artistically documenting the changing arctic landscape. 

As well as regularly appearing in galleries, her work has also been used in the set design of the classic ballet Giselle, as well as the Netflix show House of Cards

We spoke to Zaria about her inspiration, artistic background, and the tools she uses in her work: 

Where do you get your inspiration?

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. In my work I explore moments of transition, turbulence and tranquillity 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. Aside from the natural world, my mother, landscape photographer Rena Bass Forman was certainly one of the biggest influences in my life, and continues to be even after passing away in 2011. William Bradford, Robert Longo, and Clifford Ross are a few of the many other artists who inspire me.

What is your artistic background?

I have been making art since I could hold a stick of chalk. My mother, Rena Bass Forman, was an artist, and my sister and I grew up surrounded by art supplies. 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 received a Bachelor’s of Science in Studio Arts at Skidmore College, and during my time there I spent a semester at Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy, studying art history, jewelry making and drawing.

What tools do you use?

For the Giselle series I used charcoal pencils, stumps, various erasers, and a straight edge. For the landscape drawings, I only use my hands.

What project are you most proud of?

In August 2012 I led an Arctic art expedition called Chasing the Light up the NW coast of Greenland. 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. My mother, Rena Bass Forman, had conceived the idea for the voyage, but sadly did not live to see it through. During the months of her illness her dedication to the expedition never wavered and I promised to carry out her final journey.

I have begun a series of drawings inspired by the trip. In addition to artistically documenting climate change, the work addresses the concept of saying goodbye on both a personal and global level. In Greenland, I scattered my mother’s ashes amidst the melting ice.

Do you plan your pieces or improvise?

Mostly plan, but leaving plenty of room for changes along the way.

What do you wear when you paint?

Comfortable old clothes that can get stained; an apron, dust mask, and surgical gloves.

How did your work end up on the set of House of Cards?

The graphic designer, who became a fan of my work after briefly dating a friend of mine, used photographs of 10 drawings I had already created. The images were then printed, framed, and hung in the set.

You can see more of Zaria‘s work on her website You can also follow her on Facebook here.

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