Metaphorical Paintings by Calida Garcia Rawles Obscure Black Subjects with Gleaming Ripples of Water
Artist Calida Garcia Rawles continues her explorations into the myriad possibilities of water with paintings distorted by bubbles, pockets of air, and ripples reflecting the light above. She suspends Black figures in otherwise imperceptible moments, like the pause that immediately follows a fully-clothed plunge into a pool, conveying a vulnerable and fleeting interaction between her subjects and their surroundings. With submerged profiles or mirrored features, many are unidentifiable. “You really can’t see a face. They become almost forms and a part of their environment,” she tells Colossal. “I think there’s a spiritual element to water… They’re formless, and we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Many of the poetic renderings depict figures in billowing gowns or collared shirts in white for the color’s association with virtue and purity, a symbolic choice that’s connected to the artist’s interest in broader questions of race and its implications. “A lot of times innocence is not associated with the Black body. I thought it was a place to start,” she says. In an exploration of Rawles’s work, writer Roxane Gay further connects these questions to the water itself, sharing that the ripples in the artist’s paintings reference “the topographical maps of cities where Black lives have been tragically lost.”
Each painting is based on photographs the artist takes herself—read more about her lengthy research process previously on Colossal—and captures water’s incredible power and meditative qualities. For Rawles, the fluid spaces are metaphorical and tied broadly to Water-Memory Theory, or the idea that the vital liquid can preserve all of its interactions. “(I’m) remembering what water does, that it holds history in a way,” she says. “Water has everything that’s been through it, and that’s fascinating to me.”
Her practice is circular, and she’s likely to return to a thought or broader theme after setting it aside. The ethereal, abstract paintings that comprise the new series On the Other Side of Everything, for example, are extensions of those in A Dream For My Lillith, six paintings featuring clothed figures who are obscured by lustrous ripples of water rendered in acrylic. “It’s not a departure,” Rawles says of her new work. “It’s just showing more range of what I can do.”
On the Other Side of Everything is on view at Lehmann Maupin in New York through October 23, and the artist is currently working on her first mural at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. You can follow her progress on that large-scale work and see more of her process on Instagram.
Update: This article was updated for context on October 13, 2021.
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