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Activism through beauty: Zaria Forman

Perito Moreno Glacier no. 1, Argentina, December 13th, 2018 (2020)

Zaria Forman

Pastel on Paper

68 (h) x 102 (w) in

Zaria Forman (b. 1982) creates large scale, hyper-realist pastel drawings of sensitive, water-based landscapes, like glaciers, that are heavily impacted by climate change.

Forman inherited her mother’s positive spirit and eye for beauty, and her father’s scientific sensibility. The mission of her practice is to move people to action by appealing to their elevated emotions in ways that warnings and statistics do not. Forman’s work is currently on view in a group exhibition at the Wildling Museum in Solvang, CA. She is preparing for an upcoming solo exhibition at Winston Wachter Fine Art in New York, Spring 2023.

“I don’t want to shock viewers with images of destruction, because I think that can be paralyzing. I try to stay positive, to show the beauty of what is still here, and to emphasize the achievements we have to celebrate. I think that empowers people to take action and to feel like it is still possible to do something to protect this earth that sustains us.”

Photo credit: Francois Lebeau

Zaria was born and raised in Upstate New York, but her family traveled extensively. Her mother, a professional photographer and Zaria’s major influence, specialized in photos of delicate landscapes. Her father is an ophthalmologist. Through her travels, Zaria developed a curiosity for other cultures and an appreciation for nature. She studied art at Skidmore college and later moved to Brooklyn.

In 2011, Zaria’s mother passed away. She decided to lay her to rest in Greenland, a country her mother always wanted to visit but never did. In Greenland, Zaria was inspired by stories from the Inuit about melting ice fjords that limited their food supply and transportation routes. Shrinking ice means less hunting territory, and fewer areas accessible by sled, a primary form of transport. Inspired by this trip, Zaria committed her practice to exploring the effects of climate change, by traveling to remote places to preserve and shed light on the beauty and awe-inspiring nature of these far-away places. Her mission has taken her from the North Pole to Antarctica and many places in between.

Forman’s favorite subjects are glaciers, oceans and other bodies of water. She works with pastel on paper in many different shades of blue. “[Water] is an endless source of inspiration to me as it constantly changes, taking on new forms from one instant to the next—a movement I attempt to evoke in my drawings.”

Photo credit: Tim Davis

When on site, Forman takes thousands of photographs and makes small sketches to capture scenes that move her. Back in the studio, she composes her work through a combination of reference photographs, memory, and imagination. After making a preliminary sketch in pencil, Forman adds pigments to the paper and makes smudges with her palms and fingers. She jokingly refers to herself as a “finger painter”. For the stunning detail, she breaks the pastel into shards and draws with surgical precision.

“Pastel on paper is the medium through which I feel I can best convey the message behind my work. It has to do with the reactions viewers have once they realize it’s not a photo. It prompts them to move closer to the piece and look at its details, creating an intimate connection that might not have happened otherwise, had they simply kept their distance. This closeness is a side effect I hadn’t intended but makes sense for what I’m trying to do: immerse viewers in the details of these beautiful places so they can experience them personally and emotionally through my drawings.

Forman is represented by Winston Wachter Fine Art, which has locations in Seattle and New York. She’s currently exhibiting in group shows at the Wilding Museum in Solvang, California and at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. She has a solo exhibition planned for Q4 2022 at Scott Polar Museum in London and another solo exhibition in the works for Spring 2023 at Winston Wachter Fine Art’s New York location.

Perito Moreno Glacier no. 1, Argentina, December 13th, 2018 (print), 2020

Fine art archival print

50 (h) × 74 (w) in

Editions 5 of 15


If you’d like to acquire this or other works by Zaria Forman, email

Watch Zaria describe her practice:


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