Water represents so many things. It is the beginning and everything else in between. There are talks about how people are submerged and baptized underwater. So, in a way – water is a birth and a rebirth.

It is a mixture of two different worlds. It will welcome you on some days, and even wrap around you in warm and cool embrace – sort of like a mother. On some other days, however, the water will trap you beneath her and refuse to let you go. She will suffocate you and snuff life out of you. She is so much like a lover – so unpredictable…

The relationship between water and human beings is a very sacred one, and it varies. This relationship is what Calida Rawles explores in her paintings. The Los Angeles based artist captures the different versions of water – the terrifying and the loving.

Calida Rawles has been an artist for many years now. However, she only began to focus on water in 2015. Her paintings are hyper-realistic and have often been compared to photographs. The only difference is that her paintings come with more expression.

Her paintings capture the relationship between water memory and Black trauma. The water has always been considered as a force that remembers – it keeps memories. It is forever moving and trying to find home – sort of like the Blacks – a people that crossed oceans and were never able to make it back home. These Blacks had to suffer through a whole lot in a foreign land, and lost their identity somewhere in the middle.

Her painting – The Space In Which We Travel – was created in 2019. It depicts two black girls grasping at each other’s hands. The body of water surrounding them isn’t a friend, it’s a threat; and the girls are holding on to each other for support. It’s almost like the girls are saying “wherever you go, I’m following.” It sends a message of female Black solidarity.

This painting is titled “Radiating My Sovereignty” (2020). It portrays a Black woman in water. However, there’s a plot twist – it is that she’s not underneath the water.  Rather, her head is above and she’s staying afloat. There’s a blissful and calm expression on her face – like someone who has everything under control and knows what she’s doing. The best part of it is how much she radiates power, beauty and composure.

This painting is titled “Lost in The Shuffle”. It is a representation of pain and death. The figures in the painting are barely managing to stay afloat. It renders the Black experience perfectly and channels a sense of “what now?”

To get a sense of what she wants to paint, Calida Rawles invites models to swimming sessions. Then, she photographs them as they float or swim in the water. These photographs serve as her reference pictures when she begins painting. If there’s any color lesson to be learnt from her paintings, it’s that blue can be a very calm or dangerous color.

Calida Garcia Rawles is currently represented by “Various Small Fires” – a Los Angeles and South Korea based gallery. Her first solo exhibition with them in Los Angeles sold out before its opening night.

Calida Rawles at her Solo Exhibition in February, 2020

Recently, she got a new representation with Lehmann Maupin, a major gallery, which has locations in New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London. Although she is still represented by Various Small Fires, she will be having her first solo exhibition with Lehmann Maupin in September, 2021.


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