KES X ZARIA FORMAN | BY Lia Kes |
KES X ZARIA FORMAN
If you haven’t yet heard of Zaria Forman, it’s high time for you to be introduced. Zaria is an incredibly talented artist who has dedicated her career to conveying the urgency of climate change through her large-scale photorealistic pastel drawings of landscapes that are at environmental risk. Rather than focusing her compositions on the devastation about which scientists warn us, Zaria’s drawings celebrate the beauty and tranquility that we all stand to lose.
Upon seeing one of Zaria Forman’s works (which are all done by hand – no tools!), chances are that you will be so mesmerized by its grandeur and meticulous detail, that you will be instantly transported to the exact spot at which Zaria stood when snapping the mental and photographic image of that landscape. At that moment, completely awed by the beauty of a glittering glacier in Antarctica or a stormy seascape in the Maldives, you will realize that the responsibility to the planet is yours too. And in the moment after that, you will be pleasantly reminded that art has the power to educate, shift perspectives and inspire action.
Zaria’s dedication and artistic activism have earned her many well deserved privileges. Zaria has joined NASA on several Operation IceBridge missions over Antarctica, Greenland, and Arctic Canada; she was the artist-in-residence aboard the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica; Zaria has delivered a TedTalk and regularly appears in publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic, and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few.
We bonded with Zaria over our mutual commitment to art, design and the climate change crisis and joined forces to create a capsule collection to honor and advocate for our beautiful planet. The limited edition, nine-piece collection brings together KES’ iconic silks and signature jumpsuit with prints drawn by Zaria and inspired by her work. All of the garments are biodegradable and organically dyed. The collection will be launched on March 10th, which also happens to be the day we celebrate the opening of our new Soho store, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit Galleries Commit x Art to Acres in April, Earth Month.
We learned so much about Zaria Forman, from her childhood introduction to the sweeping landscapes so close to her heart, to her technical, geoscientific and positive approach to art, and so much more
Please tell us a little bit about Zaria the artist and the message that you convey through your epic landscapes. What scale are your works?
I have basically been an artist my whole life. I grew up with a mom who was an artist – a landscape photographer – and we always had art supplies around the house and so from a really early age, I was making artwork and traveling to very remote places because that was the subject of my mother’s landscape photography. Those experiences really instilled in me a deep love of landscape and that has always been the subject of my art. When you love something, you want to protect it, and so my work has always been about offering my viewers a chance to experience these far flung places on the planet that are at the forefront of climate change, where most people don't get to travel or live. And in getting a chance to experience these landscapes, I hope to get people to fall in love with them - showing them the beauty of these places. I hope that they can love them in the way that I do and, in turn, do something to preserve and protect them.
My work has always been large. I have always had the urge to depict a landscape as I see and experience it and to give people as similar an experience as I’ve had as possible, without actually being there. I make the pieces as large as I can to envelop the viewer in the landscape and transport them to that place and time. For the same reason, I like to depict all of the small details that I see and in order to do that, my work has to be large so that I can get into those nitty gritty, tiny places. It’s always a goal for me to draw at a 1:1 ratio. My average piece is 60 x 90, but I would do them all bigger and bigger if I could!
In a world where people dismiss science or simply can’t be bothered to be kinder to the planet, how do you stay so positive and gain attention and trust?
I think the real key to how I tackle that is through emotions. Art has this special ability to tap into people’s emotions. It’s scientifically proven. Getting people in front of the work to see the beauty of these places can really spark something. If it’s the right person, the CEO of an (oil) influential company for example, that can make a bigger impact. Drawing is the sharpest tool in my toolbox and I use it to illuminate and spark action.
We are so happy to have created this capsule collection with you because it is another medium through which we can spread this important message. We are curious, what drew you to KES and how do you see this collaboration fitting into your larger mission?
That is exactly the reason I was drawn to KES in the first place! I like that Lia’s creations are sustainably made, with as little waste as possible, and organically dyed. I am always drawn to people who have these things in mind with whatever they do – whether it be making food or clothes or running a business. I think it’s important that we all think about these things and I believe it makes us that much stronger when we collaborate and work across different mediums and disciplines. It’s important because we are not going to solve the climate emergency individually. If we collaborate and understand the data, the math and science and help to communicate that through art and fashion, we can make a bigger difference.
As an artist or a fashion designer, there is a pressure to reinvent oneself and bring newness to one’s craft. Given that your mission will remain largely the same, how do you convey your important message piece after piece and keep your art fresh?
One thing I have always done with my work is always try to learn something new with every composition that I draw. Every time I venture into a landscape to start a new body of work, I am looking for new textures and surfaces of ice to attempt to draw that I haven’t before. My fallback is to focus on what I know works and looks best and that I can draw well in pastel. That said, when I get home from a trip, I look through the images and conjure memories of the experience and I try to find new things to capture so that I can learn new techniques and attempt new compositions. It’s always important as an artist to continue to learn and do things that feel scary. I always learn the most when I am the most unsure of what I am doing. I feel a shift now that I am a mother and have a few new ideas swirling around in my head…
Your message is so powerfully conveyed through your art. Even on a computer screen, your work takes our breath away! As you so eloquently put it in your TED Talk, you “stir an emotional reaction to spur action.” What action would you like to see – big or small – from those who view your art?
I always think individual action is really important. I also worry that sometimes it takes away from the bigger picture which is that we need systemic change. It is important for all of us to know what our carbon footprint is and to try to reduce it because these individual changes help us stay authentic and true to ourselves in what we believe we should be doing. I do what I can in my household, and we all should, but what's even more important is voting because the people in office make the laws that make meaningful change.
Travel exposes you to so many cultures and landscapes. We have heard you say that you could spend your lifetime creating landscapes of glaciers, but are there other places on the planet you want to visit (and capture) that you haven’t yet?
Always! High on my list is Alaska because I have never been there. I would also love to go back to Patagonia because it was one of my favorite places and I would like to get to know the glaciers there a little bit better. I always want to go back to Antarctica with my own boat and not be on a schedule. I’ve seen incredible footage of the glaciers at the base of Mount Everest and would like to go there too! I would also like to go to Australia and New Zealand – I’ve never been!
We are heartened that our youth is adamant about change as it relates to many issues, including the environment. Greta Thunberg has been such an important voice in this regard. Where do you see this momentum taking the next generation in terms of climate change?
Globally, I think that we are moving in the right direction and I don’t think that is going to change. That momentum cannot be stopped. Especially since renewable energy (wind and solar) has become so much more cost effective than it was. In fact, it’s more cost effective to use renewable energy than it is to use fossil fuels. The world runs on money and now that there has been a shift in environmental awareness, it’s just a matter of time, a lot of effort and lobbying until the infrastructure is there. Overall, I agree that the younger generations know what is happening and sadly they are the ones that are going to have to deal with the worst consequences of it. They won’t have a choice but to do the right thing. Thankfully they’ve been extremely clear on that and they’re doing it.
How will you pass your legacy onto your daughter Ziggy? Will she go on adventures with you once she is old enough?
I had a great role model in my mom. She lived her life and we came along for the ride. I had a great time and I think I turned out okay, so I would like to try to model my own motherhood after what I experienced. Ziggy’s first passport stamp is from Iceland! She’s a good little traveler and very adaptable.
We love to end each KES WOMEN interview with this question: What is your best life advice?
I think it’s important that if you have the opportunity to make a living doing something that you enjoy and are good at, it’s important to seize on that thing and do it. I am very lucky to do what I do. I had parents that were very supportive. I know not everyone has that option, but if it is available to you, it behooves you to dig deep because when you are doing something you’re good at, you feel good about yourself and you feel good about your daily life, moment to moment. If you can apply that to something that makes the world a better place, it’s even better!