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Lehmann Maupin opens Calida Rawles’ first major Solo Exhibition in New York City

Nov 9–Dec 16, 2023 | Lehmann Maupin NYC

Lehmann Maupin presents A Certain Oblivion, an exhibition of new paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Calida Rawles. Featuring Rawles’ most monumentally scaled works to date, A Certain Oblivion celebrates hope as an expression of our shared humanity in the face of dark times.

Installation image of 'Lehmann Maupin' | Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin
Installation image of 'Lehmann Maupin' | Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin

The power of Rawles’ proposition is embodied in her subjects: young women and girls who float and tread—alone and in community—in uncertain waters. They are the next generation, women whose graceful determination to transcend the riptides of contemporary American life belies the effort required to keep their heads above water. Rawles’ newest body of work reminds us that their triumph is our salvation.

Water is an element of paradox: placid and turbulent, navigable and unwieldy, transparent and unknowable, clarifying and obscuring. Throughout Rawles’ practice, water’s permeability offers a structure for contending with the past while looking toward the future. She has drawn inspiration from water memory theory, the idea that water absorbs physical and spiritual traces of that which passes through it. In her work, water retains its varied and charged associations across time and place. These are signaled in a variety of subtle shapes in the ripples and reflections that dapple each painting’s surface. Almost imperceptible, these forms allude to recent events in our nation’s assault on the rights of women. Troubling the exquisite beauty of crystalline swells, Rawles’ textured references remind us of the undertow that threatens to drag us down if we do not push back. Rising above it all, Rawles’ tenderly painted figures become everywomen—daughters of an upward movement powered by hope and enacted with grace.

Installation image of 'Lehmann Maupin' | Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin
Installation image of 'Lehmann Maupin' | Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin

A Certain Oblivion mines the productive tension between visibility and obscurity. Often declining to immediately reveal her subjects to the viewer, Rawles’ paintings offer recuperative alternatives to the regimes of hypervisibility and surveillance to which women’s and girls’ bodies have so often been subjected. Instead, ripples, waves, and reflected light abstract and multiply the human form, attesting to the fact that water both reveals and distorts. Nighttime scenes such as And So It Be (2023) presents a woman shrouded in darkness. Here, only the figure’s outstretched palms and a hint of her shoulder blade catch the light, while the rest of her body is suggested only by ripples. Figures such as these resist immediate legibility, dissolving into splashes of color and whorls of shadow that delight but confound the eye.

In Rawles’ most recent work, obscurity presents both an ethical position and a technical challenge. When painting her darkest canvases, elements of the composition remained partially obscured even to the artist due to the variable nature of acrylic paint, which dries darker than it appears when wet. Achieving the subtle gradations of greens and blacks meant effectively painting blind. A Certain Oblivion suggests that, much like the experience of floating in water, painting itself occasionally necessitates giving up control. As she contends with the task of representation, Rawles takes her cues from water, embracing its unknowable depths, its slippery evasiveness, its powerful fluidity—and ultimately, its irrepressible vitality.



Rawles received a B.A. from Spelman College, Atlanta, GA (1998) and an M.A. from New York University, New York, NY (2000). Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY (2021); Various Small Fires, Los Angeles, CA (2020); and Standard Vision, Los Angeles, CA (2020). Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions including Generation*. Jugend trotz(t) Krise, Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen, Germany (2023); Rose in the Concrete, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (2023); 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany (2022); Black American Portraits, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA (2021), Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA (2023); A Shared Body, FSU Museum of Fine Arts, Tallahassee, FL (2021); View From Here, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA (2020); Art Finds a Way, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL (2020); Visions in Light, Windows on the Wallis, Beverly Hills, CA (2020); Presence, Fullerton College Art Gallery, Fullerton, CA (2019); With Liberty and Justice for Some, Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2017); Sanctuary City: With Liberty and Justice for Some, San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco, CA (2017); LACMA Inglewood + Film Lab, Inglewood, CA (2014); and Living off Experience, Rush Arts Gallery, New York, NY (2002). Rawles created the cover art for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s debut novel, “The Water Dancer,” and her work is in numerous public and private collections, including Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA; Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; and Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY..

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