The paintings of Calida Rawles (b. 1976, Wilmington, DE; lives and works in Los Angeles, CA) merge hyper-realism with poetic abstraction. Situating her subjects in dynamic spaces, her recent work employs water as a vital, organic, multifaceted material, and historically charged space. Ranging from buoyant and ebullient to submerged and mysterious, Black bodies float in exquisitely rendered submarine landscapes of bubbles, ripples, refracted light and expanses of blue. For Rawles, water signifies both physical and spiritual healing as well as historical trauma and racial exclusion. She uses this complicated duality as a means to envision a new space for Black healing, and to reimagine her subjects beyond racialized tropes. Enhancing the seductive nature of water, the work tempers heavier subjects with aquatic serenity and geographic and temporal ambiguities, inviting multiple readings. Embedded in her titles and topographical notations in the compositions, Rawles’ canvases represent an expansive vision of strength and tranquility during today’s turbulent times, while insisting on the triumph of humanity.
“What I love about water is what it does to the body, of abstracting the form. I want my work to look like it’s in motion. None of them are still, they’re not posed portraits — these figures are in motion,”