Calida Rawles - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, May 15, 2024 | Phillips

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  • Water is the dominant force in Calida Rawles’ paintings, charging her fictional spaces with vital energy symbolic of spiritual healing. Pillar, 2018, comes from Rawles’ iconic Water Dancer series, which responds to being Black, female and American while envisioning an otherworldly, liberated space within the water. The element represents a life force connotative of virtue and purity; formally it adds mystery, exaggerating the effect of Rawles’ hyperreal painting style. “What I love about water is what it does to the body, of abstracting the form,” Rawles explains.i


    In Pillar, the aqueous foreground seamlessly dissipates into the infinitely starry night sky. A female figure stands chest-deep, glowing in the nighttime reflection while balancing a jug on her head and holding a concentrated, forward-looking gaze. The water refracts her right leg at a dramatic angle while her left hand dazzles with an otherworldly glow. The enigmatic figure loosely references the figure Lilith, the folkloric first wife of Adam who refused to submit to him, whom Rawles identifies as a champion for equality who countered expectations.


    Rawles bases her work on photographs she stages herself, placing friends and relatives in pools. On setting her works within water, she elaborates, “I love the duality of water and how it can serve as a metaphor for life… It’s beautiful and healing, and I feel weightless and unburdened in it. But at the same time, it can be dangerous as well as restorative: historically, black people have always had a complicated relationship with water,” referencing the transatlantic Middle Passage of the slave trade and America’s history of segregated swimming pools.ii Rawles is amongst a cohort of artists representing Black figures in water in gestures of tranquility and healing, ranging from Derrick Adams’ festive Floater series to a scene in the opening act of Barry Jenkins’ film Moonlight where an adolescent boy is tenderly taught to swim. In Pillar, Rawles’ piercing, ethereal figure exudes confidence in the water, claiming the space as her own.


    Collector’s Digest

    • Pillar is the first work by Calida Rawles to come to auction.

    • The Perez Art Museum Miami will open a major solo exhibition of Calida Rawles’ work in June of this year.

    • The artist is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at The Delaware Contemporary, on view through August.

    • Rawles work was featured on the cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ debut novel The Water Dancer in 2019.


    Calida Rawles in Suyin Haynes, “The painter submerging viewers into hyperrealistic water worlds,” CNN, November 13, 2023, online

    ii Calida Rawles in Enuma Okoro, “Calida Rawles: ‘I use soft colours people wouldn’t associate with black men,’” Financial Times, September 3, 2021, online

    • Provenance

      Various Small Fires, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Various Small Fires, Calida Rawles: A Dream for My Lilith, February 12–March 18, 2020

    • Literature

      "Getting Very (Hyper)Real: Calida Rawles "A Dream for My Lilith" @ Various Small Fires, Los Angeles," Juxtapoz, February 11, 2020, online (illustrated)
      Enuma Okoro, "How Three Artists Are Exploring Mythology and Race," The New York Times, September 10, 2020, online (illustrated)



signed and dated "Calida Rawles 2018" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $53,340

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 15 May 2024