Tufts of a pink skirt, a soaked evening gown clinging to a knee, and a few fingers and toes gently breach the water’s surface in Calida Rawles’ A Certain Oblivion. On view this month at Lehmann Maupin, the new body of work is transcendent and monumental, with canvases scaling nine feet of rippling blues and blacks. The paintings return to the artist’s interest in water memory theory and the idea that the life-giving liquid preserves moments of time.
In A Certain Oblivion, Rawles renders two of her daughters who gracefully float together and apart, their heads just above the surface. Placing the next generation in such vulnerable, precarious positions alludes to the resilience and determination needed to rise above “the riptides of contemporary American life,” a statement says. Despite facing the threat of being consumed by the current, the figures remain calm and graceful, carrying on and resting at the surface.
While exploring similar themes to earlier series, A Certain Oblivion is darker. Palettes of navy, gray, and black obscure the figures, who are already distorted by the undulating nature of water. These deep, saturated tones reflect the current political and cultural moment that seems to consistently plunge the world into darkness and despair. For Rawles, though, the paintings are hopeful. She explains:
There is always darkness before the light. I thought of that often when making the work and hope this may inspire others during these very trying times. Much of the work in this show is dark, for sure, but I do have a few pieces that are in the light. A cool blue water. I thought of those pieces as my day and the dark ones as part of my night waters. Our light cycle was definitely on the top of my mind when thinking of this show. I want to believe this is a moment in a larger path.
There’s an uncertainty and illegibility that the artist gravitates toward as she reminds us that predicting outcomes isn’t always possible. She even likens the process of painting in acrylics to that of floating, two physical acts that both require a release of control. “All of the dark colors look alike when they are wet,” she says. “You have to trust yourself and (your) ability. The experience was really fun, to put it simply. I was excited to wait for the outcome when it dried.”
A Certain Oblivion is on view from November 9 to December 16 in New York.
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