WATER AND ITS MANY THEMES, characteristics, and metaphors is central to the practice of Calida Rawles and serves as an anchoring through line in her paintings. A hybrid mix of hyperrealism and abstraction, her poetic images capture men, women, and young people submerged and floating in waves of stunning blue pool water. Drawing on the vast symbolism of water, the paintings are imbued with a sense of tranquility, spirituality, and healing. At the same time, vulnerability, trauma, and racial exclusion can also be read.
In June 2024, Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is presenting the first solo museum exhibition of Rawles. The show will feature new works that connect closely with the local community and its rich history, natural environment, and surrounding waters.
Rawles is shining a light on Overton, the historically Black community in Miami. Similar to many African American neighborhoods across the United States, Overton was once a thriving enclave that suffered culturally and economically due to gentrification and the related social, political, and racial outcomes it bears, including mass displacement.
For the exhibition, Rawles is presenting paintings based on residents of Overton. She collaborated with several community members, photographing them in a public pool in Overton and in the ocean off Miami’s Virginia Key Beach. For the first time, Rawles is placing her subjects in ocean waters, eliciting profound meaning. The resulting paintings bridge the past and present, conjuring both the charged history of the Atlantic Ocean, the Middle Passage, and the oppressive legacy of enslavement and the incredible inter-generational power, persistence, and perseverance represented by her contemporary subjects.
“It is extremely exciting to work with Rawles on her first museum solo presentation. While Rawles’s signature style will be present, she is also pushing her boundaries and working in natural waters for the first time, resulting in paintings with a new color composition and feel,” said PAMM Assistant Curator Maritza Lacayo.
For the first time, she is placing her subjects in ocean waters eliciting profound meaning. The resulting paintings bridge the past and present, conjuring both the charged history of the Atlantic Ocean, the Middle Passage, and the oppressive legacy of enslavement and the incredible inter-generational power, persistence, and perseverance represented by her contemporary subjects.
CALIDA RAWLES, “On the Other Side of Everything,” 2021 (acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 2 inches). | Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, Museum purchase with funds provided by Jorge M. Pérez, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and PAMM Ambassadors for Black Art. © Calida Rawles. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London
RAWLES LIVES AND WORKS in Los Angeles. A Spelman College alum, she earned an M.A. from New York University. Her work received increased attention after she illustrated the cover of “The Water Dancer,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first novel. The book was a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah Book Club Pick. In 2021, Rawles joined Lehmann Maupin gallery and participated in an exhibition with The Billboard Creative. Her work was installed on billboards across Los Angeles, bringing her art to the masses.
Over the past decade, paintings by Rawles have also been featured in numerous group exhibitions at a variety of galleries and institutions, including most recently “Open Ended: SFMOMA’s Collection, 1900 to Now,” the current collection exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art in Germany (2022); and “Black American Portraits” (2021), the traveling exhibition organized by Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Now her first solo museum exhibition is on the horizon.
“I am so inspired by the Overtown community’s resilience and strength. Through my work, I hope to shine new light on the beauty and untold stories of its residents,” Rawles said. “I’m immensely grateful to (PAMM Director) Franklin Sirmans and Maritza Lacayo for supporting my vision and giving me the opportunity to engage so meaningfully with this incredible community.” CT
FIND MORE Ahead of the museum exhibition, Lehmann Maupin gallery is presenting a solo show of new paintings by Calida Rawles in New York. “Calida Rawles: A Certain Oblivion” is on view from Nov. 9-Dec. 16, 2023
FIND MORE a new video by Jeremy Eichenbaum, produced to accompany Calida Rawles’s Lehmann Maupin exhibition, provides a fresh look at the artist at work in her studio and new insights about her latest work
Art by Calida Rawles graced the cover of “The Water Dancer,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first novel. The high-profile book was a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah Book Club Pick. Rawles’s work is also featured in the exhibition catalog “Black American Portraits.” In 2010, Rawles authored and illustrated a charming and heartfelt children’s book called “Same Difference.”
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