Art is crucial in communicating the climate change crisis, and you use the visual emotional power of melting glaciers to give people a personal interaction with their diminishing beauty. Do you think such interactions can arouse enough awe to inspire viewers to act in new ways? If so why?
Yes, absolutely. Climate change is arguably the largest crisis we face as a global society. I feel a responsibility as an artist to address this in my work, especially since I’ve had the rare opportunity to travel to remote places at the forefront of the crisis. Psychology tells us that humans take action and make decisions based on emotion above all else. Studies have shown that art impacts our emotions. I convey the beauty as opposed to the devastation of threatened places in my work. If people can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, I think they will be inspired to protect and preserve them. I hope my drawings can facilitate a deeper understanding of the climate crisis, helping us find meaning and optimism in shifting landscapes.
Because you visit remote places and communicate their immense emotionality through your authentic reiterations, how do you think your personal emotional depth becomes entwined with what you create?
I think it’s impossible to keep my own emotions out of the work. I feel a deep sadness, a sense of urgency, as well as sincere hope – I hope all those feelings are imbued in the work and relayed to the viewer.
It is true that people in many places in the world are detached from the effects of the climate crisis, by bringing its reality to them in spaces where they can contemplate their own actions, do you think your works are meditations on personal responsibility?
At this point in time, I think it’s safe to say that no one is unaffected by climate change. That said, most people cannot travel to these places that I draw and so the issues may seem remote and disconnected from our every-day lives. That’s one reason why I draw on such a large scale, to recreate the awe and wonder of witnessing an iceberg or a glacier up close.
Since many of your works are so large that viewers can feel as though they are transported to a place where nothing besides themselves and the ice exist, what would you like for them to contemplate while they are there?
I hope viewers feel as if they’ve been transported to the landscape they’re looking at. If they can experience the landscape in the way I did, it is my hope they’ll fall in love with it the way I have. And when you love something, you want to protect it. 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.
In your interview with Antrese Wood, you spoke about feeling unhappy when telling people that you created from the photographs of others, and I found your honesty intuitive and deep. What things do you think artists should do to stop themselves from continuing in directions that do not make them feel empowered, though seem necessary?
Oh, that’s a very good, and tough question! I think it would depend on each individual artist. But I do think it’s important to assess just that – to take note of anything that doesn’t sit right, anything that makes you feel less empowered, and find ways to omit or transform that part of your practice.
You use soft pastel on paper and speak about discovering new textures often, how does this artistic media produce texture, and why have you chosen it to create your masterpieces?
I wish I didn’t love pastel as much as I do. Almost no other artist makes soft pastel work as large as I do and there is a good reason for it! The work is so vulnerable – framing is not an option, it is a requirement among other necessary precautions or acts of protection. When I speak about texture, I’m referring to the object I’m drawing (primarily ice!). The textures of water in all its forms, but especially ice, are endless, and I still have so much to learn. I constantly try new techniques with the pastel in order to render them as best as I can.
You are aware of the importance of realism and have raised the question about the use of special blue’s that look almost artificial. If reality demands a semblance of artificiality in order to capture its fullness, do you think compelling viewers to recontextualize their opinions is useful?
Why not! I used to dull the colors down, thinking viewers wouldn’t believe it actually looks like that in real life. There are blues in polar ice that are not found anywhere else in the natural world. But I don’t dull the colors anymore, because I think it’s important to portray the landscape as honestly as I am able, in all its glorious detail and color.
Based on everything you have seen through the locations you have visited, what apart from working on reducing our carbon footprint or making renewable economies else must be done to reverse the climate crisis.
I heard David Wallace Wells speak recently about how we should treat climate change the same way we did the Cold War. The world’s most powerful nations need to come together and lead (or bully!) the way for the rest of the world. This made a lot of sense to me – I think strong, unwavering, unified leadership, along with a hefty carbon tax, is how we will solve this crisis. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to reverse it though – that will likely take new technology at a scale that does not yet exist.
All images with courtesy of Zaria Forman