Photos courtesy of Zaria Forman

We were inspired to collaborate with Climate Change artist: Zaria Forman on an ELEVEN SIX WOMEN feature in honor of Earth Month. We have been awe struck by Zaria’s work for the past few years and have been honored to have her showcase pieces from ELEVEN SIX collections. We wanted to present Zaria to not only share the marvel of her work and promote the significant macro cause but to educated ourselves further on Climate Change, be curious and learn of the journey and motivations that led Zaria to pioneer this prolific and vital subject matter.

Zaria is renowned for documenting climate change with pastel drawings. She travels to remote regions of the world to collect images and inspiration for her work, which is exhibited worldwide. She has flown with NASA on several
Operation IceBridge missions over Antarctica, Greenland, and Arctic Canada, was the artist-in-residence aboard the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica and has had her work published and written about by world-class press.

Zaria is captured for this feature in her edit of Spring 21 collection at the place she now calls her full-time family home and studio base in Upstate NY.

For the remainder of Earth Month we will be giving a percentage of sales to Conserve.org an organization that protects and conserves land. We can identify the exact land area and plan to conserve a large Cloud forest system in the Northern Highlands of Guatemala.

Zaria wears our   ZANNA Sweater   with yarn hand-painted by artisans

Zaria wears our ZANNA Sweater with yarn hand-painted by artisans

Can you speak to your journey of becoming an artist and what led to the passion behind the subject of climate change?

I have been an artist my whole life! For 14 years, my work has focused on conveying the urgency of climate change. I’ve traveled to remote places where ice melts, and sea levels rise…I actually grew up spending a lot of time outdoors in far flung landscapes, and those experiences instilled in me a love of landscape. When you love something, you want to protect it! By making large drawings, I hope to offer you a chance to connect emotionally with places you may not have the chance to visit. By conveying the beauty of these places, I hope to inspire you to want to protect and preserve them.

Climate emergency work requires thinking ahead several generations, and how we pass the torch from one to the next. I might be particularly attuned to this dynamic because of my mother, Rena Bass Forman, who was a fine art landscape photographer.  Her work focused on the Arctic, and she passed that torch on to me. Her love of photography propelled her to the most remote regions of the earth. My family and I were fortunate to join and support her on those adventures, from riding camels through Northern Africa to mushing near the North Pole.

So even though I’ve been a professional artist for 16 years, when NASA emailed me 4 years ago, inviting me to join them in Antarctica, I thought it was a prank. To my surprise and delight, it turned out not to be! NASA’s Operation IceBridge is an airborne science mission that has been mapping changes in the ice at both poles for over a decade. I have been privilege to joined some of their flights over Antarctica, Greenland and Arctic Canada.

Through my work I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to many stunning places, but Antarctica is in a category of its own. The first time I went there was in Dec 2015, as the artist-in residence aboard none other than… The National Geographic Explorer. The ice radiated a sapphire blue that took my breath away and inspired a drawing that I made a time-lapse of me making SEE HERE

Ultimately, By showing the beauty of remote landscapes at the forefront of the climate emergency, I hope to inspire you to take action to protect and preserve them.

Zaria wears our   KHLOE Cardi   made from Peruvian pima cotton

Zaria wears our KHLOE Cardi made from Peruvian pima cotton

Can you speak to your process from research to a final drawing?

My process always begins by visiting the places at the forefront of the climate emergency. When I travel, I take thousands of photographs. Once I return to the studio, I draw from my memory of the experience, as well as from the photographs, to create large-scale compositions, sometimes 12ft wide. I begin with a very simple pencil sketch so I have a few major lines to follow, and then I jump right in with the colors, layering pigment onto the paper and smudging everything with my palms and fingers. I draw with soft pastel, which is dry, like charcoal, but with colors. I consider my work drawing, but others call it painting. I tend to break the pastel into sharp shards to render finer details on top of the base color. 

Occasionally I will re-invent the water or sky, alter the shape of the ice, or mix and match a few different images to create a balanced composition, but I’d say 90% of the time I’m depicting the exact scene that I witnessed, because I want to stay true to the natural landscape that existed at that point in time, (which by the way, often looks completely different by the time I’ve completed the drawing). Each piece can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on size and level of detail.

On listening to your incredible Ted Talk we learned of your Mother’s passion for the Arctic. Can you share how you led an exhibition to Greenland and carried out her lifelong wish?

In 2010 and 11, my mother and I were planning an Arctic expedition together to Greenland.  Called "Chasing the Light,” it was to be the second-ever Arctic expedition with the mission of creating art inspired by the region. American painter William Bradford led the first expedition, in 1869, which was unique because the trip’s main purpose was art, as opposed to exploration or science. My mother thought it would be fascinating to mirror Bradford’s journey, to travel up the Northwest coast of Greenland and seek inspiration from the same landscape nearly 150 years after Bradford had.

She and I were in the early stages of planning the trip when she was diagnosed with brain cancer, which quickly took over her body and mind, and she passed away six months later. During the months of her illness, though, her dedication to the expedition never wavered. I promised to carry out her final journey, which I did in August 2012, leading a group of artists and scholars on a four-week expedition.

My mother’s affection for the Arctic echoed throughout my experience in Greenland, as I felt both the power and fragility of the landscape. The sheer size of the icebergs is humbling; the ice fields vibrate with movement and sound in a way I never expected. That’s what prompted me to bring recording equipment on my more recent polar trips, and to expand the scale of my drawings, to give viewers the same sense of awe I experienced.

When I was in Greenland in 2012, I scattered my mother’s ashes amidst the melting ice. Now she remains a part of the landscape she loved so much, even as it, too, takes on new forms.

I learned from my mother how to focus on the positive, rather than the negative, and that lesson has rarely felt more necessary than now. But, the thing that gives me hope today, is the unequivocal truth that action on climate change has become unstoppable - we’re moving in the right direction.

On our family travels, when we stumbled upon a spectacular view, my mom would yell out “OH MY GOD!!!” She saved this for the best of the best… it would happen once, maybe twice a trip. Every time we approached a gorgeous view my dad, sister and I would glance at her, wondering if it might pass the “oh my god” test.

I try to uphold her reverence, her legacy of drawing attention to the beauty of remote landscapes and to embody her resolve and intrepidness. I am grateful for the time I had with her, and for the time we all have to appreciate what is around us, and to take action to protect it.

LISTEN TO TED TALK with ZARIA FORMAN: Drawings that show the beauty and fragility of Earth

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How do you think art can help solve the climate crisis? 

My motivation as an artist has always been to evoke an emotional connectedness to these dramatic and fragile places and to forge a sense of stewardship. Because few people are able to experience these remote and extreme landscapes themselves, the large scale size of my drawings serves to physically and emotionally envelop the viewer, facilitating both intimacy and awe of witnessing an iceberg close up.. By showing the beauty of remote landscapes at the forefront of the climate emergency, I hope to inspire you to take action to protect and preserve them.

I rely on other specialists to make rational, data-driven arguments for why we must take action to preserve our ecosystems.  But through my work, I’m trying to make the appeal on a more elemental level.  According to behavioral psychologists, much of our decision-making comes from our emotions. And art has a special ability to tap into emotions. So, when I make these drawings, I’m trying to create immense images overflowing with details that draw you in and transport you. 

 In the book ‘On Beauty and Being Just’  Harvard English professor Elaine Scarry suggests that when we witness something truly beautiful, be it an ocean, or a poem or a face or a glacier, it causes in us what she calls “a radical decentering.”  She says, when we see a beautiful thing, our own importance is diminished: It is not that we cease to stand at the center of the world, for we never stood there. It is that we cease to stand even at the center of our own world. We willingly cede the ground to the thing that stands before us.”  That is the experience I hope to evoke through my work.

Zaria wears the   PIA tank   in Aqua

Zaria wears the PIA tank in Aqua

With the new administration in place can you speak to how positive progress can now be made with climate change initiatives being put into action.

There is, of course, all kinds of devastating news out there about climate change. The last decade was the hottest on record, extreme weather is wreaking havoc all over the world, we are running out of time to avoid climate crises like extreme drought, crop failure, millions of climate refugees, famine, etc, and the last administration rolled back so many environmental protections, that we’re going to spend a good deal of time playing catch up before we can even make any meaningful change.

That said, I actually feel more hopeful now than I have in the 14 years I’ve been doing this work. Globally we are finally moving in the right direction, and there are so many things to celebrate! At home in the US, we finally have an administration that understands the severity of the situation, and has already set in motion the most aggressive climate plan our lawmakers have ever attempted.

Across the globe green energy has become far more affordable and accessible in the last decade 1,200+ institutions have divested in fossil fuels, totaling over 14 trillion dollars! Public pressure and economic incentives are finally strong enough to motivate companies to do the right thing, for example General Motors committing to making only electric vehicles by 2035.

Research now shows that taking fast action on climate change will not only save us money, but actually create a lot of wealth. A recent study showed that fast decarbonization could add 26 trillion go the global economy by 2030!

You just had a beautiful baby girl so your mind must be on the future generations of the planet in an even more acute way. What progress/change must we make to make impact in just the next vital 100 years alone?

We must VOTE people into office who understand the climate emergency, and who are willing to take swift and bold action towards solving the crisis. This is not about individuals changing their day-to-day habits (although that is also still important!), this is about major corporations and governments stepping up to do the right thing.

We also need people and parties from different arenas to work together, in an ongoing way. That’s how I hope my work fits into the bigger picture: I want to be one part of that conversation, helping to generate momentum and unity of purpose across boundaries of discipline, geography and political affiliation.

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What do you suggest the most effective everyday actions people can take to make an impact on a micro level to climate change and reducing our carbon footprint?

Again, this is not nearly as important as corporations and governments making massive change. Still, we should do what we can as individuals. We can reduce our carbon footprints in lots of simple ways, and most of them will save us money, like plugging leaks in your home insulation to save power, installing a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.

If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth. Some airlines sell these to offset emissions from their flights, and after some scandals in the early days, they started to scrutinize the projects closely, so the offsets can now be bought in good conscience. You can also buy offset certificates in a private marketplace, from companies such as TerraPass in San Francisco that follow strict rules set up by the state of California; some people even give these as holiday gifts. Yet another way: In states that allow you to choose your own electricity supplier, you can often elect to buy green electricity; you pay slightly more, with the money going into a fund that helps finance projects like wind farms.

In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. Speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do!

Can you recommend any resources that educates on climate change for people who would like to gain a deeper understanding?

Here are some resources I offer on my website:

JUSTIN GILLIS NOV. 28, 2015, in Short Answers to Hard
Questions About Climate Change for the NYTimes. Full article 
Join the climate movement 
A couple more wonderful articles about how to reduce your carbon footprint:
1. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/03/upshot/what-you-can-do-about-climate-change.html?module=Promotron&region=Body&action=click&pgtype=article

Zaria wears the   VALERIA Cami   in Neon Lime

Zaria wears the VALERIA Cami in Neon Lime

We hugely admire your powerful and important work and are even more honored that you wear and showcase ELEVEN SIX. Can you speak to what draws you to our brand and also and which piece from the Spring 21 collection you are enjoying and why?

I love that the clothing is sustainable - each item is handmade so well that I will be able to pass them on to my daughter! Catherine is empowering the woman artisans in Peru, as well as the artists she collaborates with. And every single item I have is SO comfy, fits perfectly, and I literally get at least three compliments every time I wear them out - no joke!  My current favorite is the ZANNA Sweater. I've been calling it my birthday cake sweater because the colors are like cake frosting with melting sprinkles. And it fits and feels as delicious as that sounds.


For the remainder of Earth Month we will be giving a percentage of sales to Conserve.org an organization that protects and conserves land. We can identify the exact land area and plan to conserve a large Cloud forest system in the Northern Highlands of Guatemala.