Metaphorical Paintings by Calida Garcia Rawles Obscure Black Subjects Swimming Through 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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In Sonia Alins’s dreamy works, figures gently break through the surface of the sea, creating a minimal ripple around their bodies as they dip in and out of the water. The Spanish artist and illustrator (previously) is known for her expressive swimmers, whose enlarged limbs splay in graceful positions as they float and move through the ocean. Translucent sheets of vellum produce the cloudy effects of water, obscuring fish and coral and adding a three-dimensional element to the largely ink, acrylic, and watercolor drawings.
Although Alins primarily centers women in ambiguous states of emotion, men and children have been emerging in her mixed-media illustrations, further reflecting on the artist’s own experience with motherhood and the incomparable force of aquatic environments. “I feel the water as powerful entity, a supernatural force capable of source anguish, pain, desperation in the same way that it is a source of happiness, joy, inner peace, and love. Water helps me to express my feelings in a louder way, and it’s why I love it,” she tells Colossal.
Alins works on a variety of commissions in addition to her personal practice, and her ethereal project for Moleskine titled “The Beautiful Red Reefs” recently won her an Award of Excellence from Communication Arts’s annual competition. Browse originals and hand-embellished prints in limited quantities in her shop, and you can keep up with her illustrations, in addition to news about upcoming shows like the one at Taipei’s Contemporary by U gallery in October, on Behance and Instagram.
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Masks, Toilet Paper, and Thermometers Transform into Miniature, Outdoor Adventures by Artist Tatsuya Tanaka
In the time of COVID-19, disposable face masks, toilet paper, and other essentials are synonymous with safety, precaution, and staying indoors. But in Tatsuya Tanaka’s ongoing Miniature Calendar series, the everyday items are subverted to create the tiny sets of outdoor adventures. A folded mask serves as a small tent, toilet paper descends from a wall holder as a snowy ski hill, and a thermometer outfitted with wheels transforms into a speedy racecar. For more of the miniature scenes from the Japanese artist and photographer (previously), head to Instagram, where he publishes a new piece daily. (via Lustik)
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Five years ago, Calida Garcia Rawles learned to swim by joining a team dedicated to the exercise. The sessions were “therapeutic and spiritually uplifting,” the Los Angeles-based artist shares with Colossal. “I found that I felt emotionally lighter after leaving the pool, no matter what issues I was working out before I jumped into the water. This led me to begin using water as a visual language… a way to heal and address difficult and divisive issues.”
Through a serene body of work, Rawles renders figures floating through bright blue waters. Generally outfitted in white or pastel, the subjects are surrounded by glinting ripples and bubbles. “When I am in the water and I see the light glistening off of it in certain ways… it just looks so magical. The way the body appears to break, splinter, and flow in moving water appears other-worldly to me,” she says.
Beginning with research, reading, and the occasional interview, the artist searches for subjects, who then are submerged in water and captured through hundreds of photographs. “It’s kind of like quilting… with the images. I use this as a springboard to start the paintings,” she says. Rawles gleans concepts of the supernatural from writers like Octavia Butler and Ta-Nehisi Coates—who in 2019, released his first novel, The Water Dancer, which features Rawles’s work on the cover—that inform the ethereal qualities of her paintings.
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For years, Nicole Larkin has been capturing the ocean pools along the coasts of New South Wales in a project titled The Wild Edge. Mostly constructed as public works endeavors more than 80 years ago, the geometric spaces often are nestled in Australia’s rocky shorelines, surrounded by crashing waves and filled with jewel-toned waters. In a statement about the project, Larkin described the swimming sanctuaries as offering visitors “intimate encounters with the landscape.”
They are largely opportunistic interventions that exploit the natural topography of the rock platform to make a protected and convenient swimming area. They often exhibit the “bare minimum,” dematerializing into the rock platform yet providing amenity and facilitating easy access to the ocean.
The Sydney-based architect, artist, and designer tells Colossal that she’s concerned with how the ocean landscapes are being altered by climate change. Larkin says designing additional pools could be used “to facilitate community amenity and access to the ocean, but also to act as protective structures which buffer against storms,” as the area deals with the global crisis.
For a geographical look at coast-side retreats, check out Larkin’s interactive collaboration with Guardian Australia. More aerial shots of the 60 remaining ocean oases are on the artist’s Instagram and Behance. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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Illustrator Sonia Alins (previously) creates evocative aquatic scenes using a combination of two and three dimensional elements. Smooth, translucent vellum creates the visual effect of water, and Alins sometimes inserts tufts of colored thread or small sheets of tulle to invoke the ocean floor’s textural topography. Alins then creates carefully placed slits in the vellum to allow her figurative illustrations to peek through the water. Swimming women and the occasional whale move through the murky water, with expressions ranging from peacefulness to mild distress. In an interview with Sara Barnes, Alins explained her deep connection to the water:
I was born near the Mediterranean sea and the influence of it and water in my culture is something defining. I guess it’s part of my DNA. The truth is that the sea has always been present in my life and has transmitted a special and positive energy to me. When taking the first steps of my Dones d’aigua series, water came to me as the perfect medium to communicate and expand emotion. The protagonists of my works interact with this mass of water where they are immersed and, there, their feelings are amplified, their shouts are heard louder, their desperation is felt more profoundly… But also, when they are calm, it feels like a more rewarding emotion too.
The Spain-based artist’s minimal yet impactful style lends itself to literary and editorial illustrations, and Alins has received several advertising and book awards for her work. You can explore more of Alins’ aquatic worlds on Instagram and Behance, and shop prints and products in her Society6 store.
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