top of page

Calida Rawles

Finding Tranquility Despite the Pain: The Healing Art of Calida Rawles



Kelise Williams: The theme for the 2023 issue of Aunt Chloe is the emotional lives of Southern Black women. Having lived in different regions of the United States, would you please tell how your regional background has influenced your perspective on various aspects of life and how it has shaped your identity—and particularly the years that you have spent in the South?


Calida Rawles: Living in the South really helped me recognize how much of a Northerner I am. I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and came to recognize that Wilmington (which is outside of Philly) moves at a certain pace. At first, it was difficult for me to find the rhythm of Atlanta and the South, but over time I grew to respect and love the differences. Every time I  travel I try to find the rhythm of wherever I am so I can appreciate it more. As a Spelman graduate, you are familiar with the white dress tradition.


KW: A white dress has starred in various paintings that you have created. How has your time at Spelman influenced the kinds of subjects that you focus on in your work?


CR: Yes, the white dresses in my work probably were influenced by Spelman a bit. It was subconscious, though. I can’t deny Spelman has been significant to me as a person and artist. It’s funny, I didn't recognize the connection of the white dress and the Spelman tradition until I had a studio visit with Andrea Barnwell Brownlee (the former director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.) She came to my studio in Los Angeles and saw the black women in their white dresses and quickly pointed it out. I originally used the white dress as a symbol, with thoughts of a baptism of some sort. Much of my work addresses gender and racial politics… sounds like Spelman interests, right? Women's rights and racial equality have always been important to me and going to Spelman only made sense because of that. I adored my time there and classes like ADW (African Diaspora and the World) were fundamental to a lot of my thinking.


KW: Some of your pieces have been catalyzed by literary works, for example, the reference to James Baldwin in Fire Through Time, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man which has been a significant inspiration. Are there other writers who have strongly influenced your work?


CR: For sure. Roxane Gay, Octavia Butler, Emily St. John Mandel, Madeline Miller, Regina R. Robertson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. I read. Actually read and reread and listen to their works. I am heavily influenced by literature, to say the least.

KW: Previously, you have talked about how pain and mourning led to the creation of your water-themed works, where subjects are floating or drowning while dressed in white. One can view pieces like Fire Through Time and Thy Name We Praise as both finding tranquility despite the pain and nearly drowning in pain. With such a potent theme and powerful imagery, do you conceive of your work as an act of healing or revolution in the face of black mental health stigmatization?

CR: Yes, my work is definitely about healing. My art is my own therapy. When things are difficult or hard for me to express, I paint. I hope others can find a way to deal with the everyday challenges of life. 

KW: In describing your works, you often talk about the evolution of emotion, turning “rage into hope,” as in the piece Atomic Will.  What would your process of creating a self-portrait entail, and what unique challenges and opportunities would it present for you as an artist, given your emotional and artistic journey?

CR: If I did a self-portrait I would definitely attempt to put myself in a peaceful tranquil state, a place I'd like to be. I want my subjects to exemplify their agency and find peace in this turbulent time. I am unsure of the challenges I would face painting myself. I know I would probably use my standard steps in creating any work. I would start with a photoshoot and see where it takes me.

Calida Rawles is a painter whose art combines hyper-realism and poetic abstraction. Her recent projects express the complicated and long relationship between Black bodies and water. A Spelman alumna, she has had solo exhibitions at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, as well as numerous other art museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the Studio Museum in Harlem. 

Kelise Williams is an International Studies Major and Religious Studies Minor at Spelman College whose background shifting across state lines has impacted her eclectic taste for literature of all kinds.

bottom of page