Painter Calida Rawles has found her groove. For years experimenting with portraits of mainly female figures swimming, floating and submerged in water, Rawles explores aspects of historical and symbolic terrain having to do with beauty, power, race, spirituality and the psychological scars of history. What began from a foundation of deeply personal lived experience expanded to denote a range of collective meaning, at the same time as her saturated earthy and oceanic palette embraced an ever-greater degree of abstraction and gestural movement within the passages of precision-rendered realism. Water in its weighty, rippled motion and bending of light makes a compelling subject for a painter like Rawles, equally intrigued with the emotional potential of abstraction as with the poetic impactfulness of her imagery.

An exhibition of Rawles’ works entitled A Dream for My Lilith is on view through March 21st at Various Small Fires on Highland Ave. The show is organized in two parts — Rawles’ striking often large-scale portraits of women, and a collection of studies made for what became the cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ incandescent debut novel, The Water Dancer (2019).

L.A. WEEKLY: What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?

CALIDA RAWLES: I am a painter that uses water as a visual language to address racial and gender politics.

Calida Rawles, The Space In Which We Travel (Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires)

Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?

Los Angeles is where I started my family. And when I say family, I am referring to my children with my husband and to the art community. They are my roots and I can’t see myself leaving anytime soon.

When is/was your current/most recent/next show?

I currently have a show at Various Small Fires entitled A Dream For My Lilith. It closes on March 21st. So come and check it out!

Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?

When I listen to music it’s usually Little Dragon, Solange, Coldplay or Kendrick Lamar. However, I mostly listen to audiobooks while I paint since I have less time to sit and read these days.

Website and social media handles, please! 


Calida Rawles, Infinite From Root to Tip (Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires)

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