LEHMANN MAUPIN announced its representation of Calida Rawles. Based in Los Angeles, she is recognized for her images of Black men, women, and young people submerged and floating in waves of pool water. Blending hyper-realism and abstraction, each of the paintings is grounded in spaces of stunning, deep blue color. Drawing on the symbolism of water, the works are imbued with profound spirituality and freighted history.

The news was announced on Feb. 18. Rawles’s first solo exhibition in New York will open at Lehmann Maupin in September 2021.

“When I first saw Calida’s work, I was mesmerized. Her process, which includes photography and even elements of performance art, pushes the limits of painting as a medium,” David Maupin said in a statement. “Calida is part of an important generation of artists who are challenging traditional narratives and reshaping our discourse around beauty, power, and identity.”

“Calida is part of an important generation of artists who are challenging traditional narratives and reshaping our discourse around beauty, power, and identity.” — David Maupin

In fall 2019, Rawles illustrated the cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first novel, “The Water Dancer.” The book was a New York Times bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club Pick, exposing her practice to a new and wider audience. Several months later, she participated in Frieze Los Angeles. The February 2020 art fair presented a conversation between Rawles and Coates about her work and his book, sponsored by Frieze and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). At the same time, VSF devoted its entire booth at Frieze to Rawles’s work.

A GRADUATE OF SPELMAN COLLEGE in Atlanta (1998), Rawles earned an M.A. from New York University (2000). She has been included in several group exhibitions. Solo shows of her work have been presented by VSF (“A Dream for My Lilith”) and Standard Vision (a public art installation), both in Los Angeles in 2020.

This fall, Rawles will unveil a permanent installation at the new Hollywood Park/SoFi Stadium campus in Inglewood, Calif. Home to two NFL teams—the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers—the stadium is hosting Super Bowl LVI in 2022, and staging the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in summer 2028.

Her work is represented in public and private collections, including The Studio in Harlem and LACMA. “The Space in Which We Travel” (2019) is showcased in LACMA’s current exhibition “View From Here: Recent Acquisitions.” Her collaboration with Coates continues to yield opportunities, too. “The Water Dancer” is being made into a feature film (produced by MGM, Plan B, and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films) with Rawles is serving as a consultant on the project.

Lehmann Maupin has locations in London, Seoul, and Hong Kong, and opened a seasonal space in Palm Beach, Fla., during winter 2020/21. The gallery has a roster of nearly 40 artists, including McArthur Binion, Nicholas Hlobo, Arcmanoro Niles, Nari Ward, and Billie Zangewa. Rawles will continue to be represented by her Los Angeles gallery, Various Small Fires (VSF), which also has a location in Seoul.

THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS in America, 2020, in particular, have been socially, politically, and economically challenging. Rawles’s work is alluring and attuned to the times—evoking emotion, drama, and tension; representing freedom and agency, a sense of abandon and release.

About seven years ago, she learned to swim. She found great calm in the rhythm of swimming laps and eventually wondered how the experience might translate on canvas.

“It all centers on my personal exploration,” Rawles told artnet News last year. “I’m going to take you on a ride as I try to work through this layered experience while painting this galaxy-like water world that’s dazzling and dream-filled. I want to talk about these difficult, divisive issues, but I also want the work to be seductive. I’m going to paint you something beautiful and I’m going to hide some stuff up in there. I never thought making this work would be about teaching my history. But it is, and I think that’s a beautiful and necessary thing.” CT


TOP IMAGE: Calida Rawles. | Photo by Glen Wilson


FIND MORE about Calida Rawles on her website

READ MORE about Calida Rawles in a recent artnet News profile


CALIDA RAWLES, “Radiating My Sovereignty,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 84 x 72 inches
213.4 x 182.9 cm). | Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London


Calida Rawles illustrated the cover of “The Water Dancer,” the bestselling first novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the highly acclaimed “Between the World and Me,” among other books.


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