Zaria Forman’s Quest to Capture Ice as Art Before It’s Gone

Zaria Forman is taking pastel drawings to a whole new level by creating photo-realist drawings of areas susceptible to climate change. She believes that artists have a special responsibility to showcase the effects of our changing climate, and has dedicated her work to doing just that.

Greenland no.69, 50x50, Soft pastel on paper, 2014. Image courtesy of Zaria Forman.
Greenland no.69, 50×50, Soft pastel on paper, 2014. (Image Courtesy of: Zaria Forman)

Her paintings capture lighting and depth so convincingly that a viewer cannot help but feel an overwhelming connection to these faraway places. While some of her work focuses on glaciers, she also captures the beauty of Hawaii, Israel, and the Maldives–areas affected by sea-level rise. Her work can be seen in exhibits around the world, including the upcoming Pulse Fair in NYC in March and the Seattle Art Fair in August. Her next solo exhibit will be at Winston Wächter Fine Art’s Seattle location, in February and March of 2017.

Forman, with inspiration from her late mother’s photography and her childhood travels, melds her personal and artistic sides mesmerizingly into her drawings. She hopes the innate beauty of the areas she captures will compel her audience to act to slow the loss she is documenting. Her work allows us to step back from the science of climate change and experience the loss, and the beauty, of these iconic and critical regions on a more human scale.

Svalbard no.33, 60x90, Soft pastel on paper, year. Image courtesy of Zaria Forman.
Svalbard no.33, 60×90, Soft pastel on paper, 2014. (Image Courtesy of: Zaria Forman)

GH: What are you trying to communicate with your artwork?

ZF: I hope my drawings can facilitate a deeper understanding of the climate crisis, helping us find meaning and optimism in shifting landscapes. One of the many gifts my mother gave me was the ability to focus on the positive, rather than dwell in the negative. I hope my drawings serve as records of landscapes in flux, documenting the transition, and inspiring our global community to take action for the future.

GH: What role does art play in the conversation about climate change?

ZF: 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 with an accessible medium, one that moves us in a way that statistics may not.  Neuroscience tells us that humans take action and make decisions based on emotion above all else. Studies have shown that art can impact our emotions more effectively than a scary news report. 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 of threatened places. If people can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, perhaps they will be inspired to protect and preserve them.


Greenland no.52, 45x60, Soft pastel on paper, year. Image courtesy of Zaria Forman.
Greenland no.52, 45×60, Soft pastel on paper, 2012. (Image Courtesy of: Zaria Forman)

GH: What in your life has inspired this coupling of the arts and climate?

ZF: 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.

Greenland no.68, 30x44, Soft pastel on paper, 2013. Image courtesy of Zaria Forman.
Greenland no.68, 30×44, Soft pastel on paper, 2013. (Image Courtesy of: Zaria Forman)

GH: GlacierHub is a website dedicated to all things glaciers; is there anything you find particularly interesting about glaciers?

ZF: I had the opportunity to explore Whale Bay [in Antarctica] for two hours in a small boat, riding around massive, majestic, ice structures. I sat in total awe for every moment. A purple-gray sky loomed above and the winds were calm, creating a tranquility that allowed for perfect reflections of the ice and sky on the water’s surface. Our little boat circled around the most astonishing, intricately sculpted, glowing blue icebergs I have ever seen. I had no idea there were so many shades of bright sapphire blues! I shot hundreds of photographs, and at times had to force my camera into my lap so I could relax and simply experience the breathtaking beauty. I only hope my drawings can capture this awe-inspiring iceberg graveyard, so I can continue sharing this sacred landscape with others.

Title, size, Soft pastel on paper, year. Image courtesy of Zaria Forman.
Deception Island, Antarctica, 72×128, Soft pastel on paper, 2015. (Image Courtesy of: Zaria Forman)


GH: Can you tell me about your time in Greenland?

ZF: In August of 2012 I led an Arctic expedition up the northwest coast of Greenland. In 1869, American painter William Bradford embarked on the very first Arctic art expedition, and our trip followed his path to find inspiration in the dramatic geography as he had. We compared exact locations with photographs from Bradford’s trip, discovering both similarities and differences in the landscape, almost 150 years later.

My mother had conceived the idea for the voyage, but did not live to see it through. She was diagnosed with brain cancer on Mother’s Day in 2011, and passed away six months later. During the months of her illness her dedication to the expedition never wavered and I promised to carry out her final journey. In Greenland, I was compelled to addresses the concept of saying goodbye on scales both global and personal, as I scattered my mother’s ashes amidst the melting ice.

Greenland no.71, 50x60, Soft pastel on paper, year. Image courtesy of Zaria Forman.
Greenland no.71, 50×60, Soft pastel on paper, 2014. (Image Courtesy of: Zaria Forman)

GH: How close do you get to the subjects of your drawings?

ZF: Very! Both emotionally and physically. It’s quite dangerous to get too close to glacier faces and icebergs, but I bend the rules a bit and get as close as I can.


Part of the proceeds from the sale of Forman’s artworks goes to and other charitable causes. For information on purchasing original works, please contact her studio manager, Melanie Reese, at