• Faiq Imran

Annette Rawlings - A Dramatic Life, A Calm(ing) Resolve

For artist Annette Rawlings, art is the epitome of human existence; a meditative frame of mind that plays with itself whilst still managing to gravitate beyond it. Having relegated herself to the pursuit of art, she has found an exposé of life’s more intimate and serene pleasures in her work. Considering how much grit and perseverance she has had to conjure up throughout her life, this approach seems almost like an act of rebellion.

Harmony of Colors © Annette Rawlings


“I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. My mother deserted me. At the age of three, my mother came back to claim me and brought me to Miami with my father. I was kidnapped at 12, forced into an arranged marriage at 16, found myself homeless at 17. I worked and put myself through school. I gained classical training in Germany and Italy. I also studied paper-making in Spain, textiles and ceramics in Mexico, graduating from the University of Miami with degrees in art history and fine art, and minors in religion and eastern philosophy. I fell in love with art when I was 16, living in Germany”, she tells me almost casually. Surely, such an incredible life amounts to much and may even call for a haughty expression or two, but not for Annette. She mentions it in passing as if nothing can stop her from doing what she loves to; nothing in the whole wide world.


Red Socks © Annette Rawlings


When I say that her work seems almost like a rebellion to the gruelling passages life has offered her, I do mean it. Her paintings invite the viewer into a space of otherworldly perceptiveness. One might even call it a child-like curiosity for everything. Not a lot of people retain their sense of wonder beyond their teens, and certainly not for the simpler things. In this regard, her paintings feel like discovering something that had always been there yet had never been touched before. Sacred, blooming, yet transformative, the figures reveal the fluidity of moments; always fleeting, lasting occasionally.


Reclining nude 2 © Annette Rawlings


Her simplicity appeals not by way of reduction, but by an emphasis on the finer points. To notice the long-flowing hair of three women, to notice a yellow dress against pale skin, to let it all flow against each other, each figure bounded to and to be itself, rubbing each other in a way that grounds the composition with an Earthly pull. In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about one of her paintings titled ‘Mexico’.


The sensitivity of her sight is on full display in her nude paintings. The figures align themselves against the flat landscapes, defining themselves by their posture but somehow remain wanting for more. It feels like the process of discovery is still underway. The figures are always there, but the reality of everything beyond them is disposed of. She credits her style to a trip she took to Mexico to study Meso-American art.


Cover Line 1 © Annette Rawlings


One might be tempted to compare her style to that of Modigliani’s late-career portraits. But, there is a major difference. Whereas Modigliani dilutes the identity of the figure, Annette simplifies the surroundings as well. Surroundings or the hint of them remain only to ascertain their direct sensory relationship with the existence of the figure. What defines the portraits is not the personality of the figure, her facial expressions, or even her gestures. The figure owes its definition to its sense of being — achieving the sensory distinction by the richness of colour and the texture of surfaces.


Mexico © Annette Rawlings


Her work has similarities with different movements and styles. It recalls the vibrancy of pop-art of the 60s and 70s. At the same time, it blends the subtlety of her earlier classical training with modernist techniques and influences. Overall, her paintings evoke a sense of a warm and colourful reality. It stands intently at the crossroads of meditative tranquillity and childlike hyper-reality. Much like the figures she paints, Annette depicts herself with every canvass she tackles — warm, engaging, and enthusiastic, a woman of unbridled passion and humorous levity.


Yellow & Orange © Annette Rawlings


She has been the subject of a documentary called “The Dramatic Life of American Artist Annette Rawlings”. Her paintings, ceramics, and the documentary will be part of an exhibition “Place and Purpose: Art Transformation in Coconut Grove 1968-1985” at the Frost Museum in Miami, Florida opening in June 2021 and running through to November.


Her book “Metamorphosis of the Figure” details her transition from classical to abstract tendencies. She has written three books in total. You can discover them at http://annetterawlings.net/. Visit http://annetterawlings.com/ to take a look at her work.

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