Zaria Forman is an artist and explorer who seeks out isolated places to uncover the beauty of nature and translate it into art. For more than 15 years she has been travelling the world with her camera, documenting changing landscapes by collecting images and memories – captured in thousands of photographs and videos – that she recreates using pastels on large-format paper.
Her work focuses on capturing formations of ice and glaciers. A socially committed artist, she says she bears witness to the natural world, and its deterioration. ‘I show the beauty of what we stand to lose in my drawings in order to inspire people. When you fall in love with something, you want to protect it,’ she explains. The 41-year-old artist’s commitment and values are in step with those of the top-tier horology house Vacheron Constantin, who invited her to participate in a new campaign as its latest “one of not many” talents.
For the past five years, the campaign has brought together individuals who reflect the values held dear by Vacheron Constantin. Forman joins musician Benjamin Clementine, designer Ora Ito, photographer and explorer Cory Richards and haute couture designer Yiqing Yin in the brand’s circle of talent. ‘I knew nothing about high watchmaking and discovered this incredible world through Vacheron Constantin’s lens,’ says Forman. ‘I was amazed by the craftspeople, by their passion and, above all, their handcrafted work, which reminds me of my own. Modelling with my fingertips, enjoying a tactile and sensual relationship with matter in a process of creation, while making a personal imprint on time and giving it a voice. The landscapes I love and depict in my work illustrate the passage and impact of time.’
The upstate New York-based artist has connected with outlying locations throughout her life. ‘My mom was a fine-art photographer and was obsessed with finding the most remote places to travel to and photograph, so from an early age I was visiting these isolated landscapes,’ she says. ‘Now I photograph the scenes and make drawings to try to transport viewers, so they feel they’re experiencing the landscape at the forefront of climate change. The environments are changing so rapidly now. I recreate what I see in person at a moment in time – which is often completely different by the time I get home and finish the work,’ she continues. ‘These landscapes are so ephemeral. I see them as portraits or records of what I have observed.’
Forman’s work is shown in galleries and museums around the world. Exhibitions include taking part in Banksy’s Dismaland , a gloomy funfair about society’s decadent excesses, and she was artist-in-residence on board the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica. Having worked in large-scale depicting glaciers, Forman is now diving into the detail, condensing the scale, always working with her fingers with pastels on canvas, directly in contact with the medium. She’s intrigued to explore glacial ice, looking at how it builds, breaks, melts, learning in parallel with scientists studying what’s happening to the planet. She has flown several times with Nasa on airborne scientific missions organised as part of Operation IceBridge over Antarctica, Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, which have helped in mapping changes in the melting ice in those regions. All these experiences have contributed to material that she draws on to create work testifying to the planet’s fragility.
Louis Ferla, Vacheron Constantin’s CEO, explains how the watchmaker is on a quest for ‘excellence and adventure; we are committed to art in culture, and call ourselves “open to the world”.’ ‘We found these qualities in Zaria, which is why this relationship is very special to us,’ adds Alexandra Vogler, the brand’s chief marketing officer. ‘It’s a partnership that starts with the art. We recognise that Zaria will literally go the extra mile to get her message across.’
Being inspired by travel is at the heart of Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas collection. In the brand’s earlier days François Constantin, part of one of the founding families, was the company’s salesman who travelled the globe, collecting and bringing back ideas and insights from far-flung countries. For the new Vacheron Constantin campaign, shot in Iceland where Forman has been busy collecting images, she wears the latest Overseas model. It’s a 35mm tone-on-tone rose gold watch and features a bezel set with 90 rose-cut diamonds, and while it’s an all-gold watch, it’s sleek and subtle. Its interchangeable strap system allows for instant mood and style change, transforming from sporty to more casual when replacing the white calfskin or rubber strap with the integrated brushed-gold bracelet.
Time is an important theme in Forman’s work. She talks about the time it takes a glacier to build, as well as ‘the time it takes to collapse, which we don’t really know the answer to right now. The time we have left to turn the ship around. The instant I take a photograph of the sunlight hitting a glacier, then it takes months back in my studio as time stretches, while the landscape rapidly changes’.
For her, she says, ‘Being part of this adventure is another way of understanding the passing of time and its impact on the world and on humankind.’ While she was in Iceland, she remembers being captivated by chunks of recently calved, compressed glacier ice washed up on a black-sand beach. ‘You can hear the bubbles of air popping if you listen,’ says Forman. These pockets of ancient air are millions of years old, trapped when the glacier first formed. ‘It’s spectacular.’