How Do Artists Celebrate? For Painter Calida Rawles, the Key to Holiday Happiness Is to ‘Enjoy the Burnt Cookies’

In our new series, Entertaining With Art Icons, visual artists share their favorite traditions, tips, and tricks for hosting holiday parties.

Calida Rawles with her family. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.
Calida Rawles with her family. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.

Calida Rawles, the boundary-pushing artist known for her stirring, photorealistic paintings of Black figures swimming in bodies of water, has had an especially busy year.

With her acclaimed solo exhibition at Lehmann Maupin having just wrapped in late October, the artist is looking forward to unwinding with friends and family over the coming weeks.

We spoke with Rawles about how she likes to entertain and spend time during the holiday season, the recipes she enjoys making for loved ones, and what she’s looking forward to in the new year.

How do you generally like to spend this time of year? Do you typically take a holiday?

Yes, I try and get back to the East Coast to spend time with my parents and extended family whenever I can. However, I’ve stayed home the last few years and just enjoyed time with my immediate family. I love spending time with my loved ones. We’re all very close.

A themed Rawles family Christmas tree. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.

A themed Rawles family Christmas tree. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.

Are there any traditions you celebrate or partake in altogether?

For Thanksgiving, my family plays a lot of games. Anything from Scattergories to silly competitions, like who can slide the longest distance down the hallway with your socks on, or who can stand up the fastest with a cup on their head without the cup falling. Anything to keep us laughing and enjoying the moment with each other.

For Christmas, our family enjoys cutting out paper snowflakes and hanging them from the ceiling around the house. I needed my kids to have snow on Christmas when they were young. Yes, it’s fake… but I am raising them in L.A. My husband is the hands-down master snowflake champ. I really believe it is a secret talent. On some of the snowflakes, we place photographs of the family we miss on the East Coast or those we have lost over the years. Every year we try to add more people that have come into our life, that have become part of our family.

We usually have a themed Christmas tree. It can be anything as simple as a color to our new favorite movie. We also enjoy going to Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nut Cracker and purchasing one of the nutcrackers for our collection. A classic Christmas movie like A Christmas Story or How the Grinch Stole Christmas is often on rotation. I may attempt to bake my grandmother’s spritz cookie recipe. But for the last two years, I have destroyed them so I may stick to store-bought… .

What are some holiday traditions you grew up with, or things you’ve always enjoyed about this time of year?

I grew up on the East Coast. I get nostalgic about going back home. I’ve always loved the smell of chimneys burning, and the air just before snowfall. It’s cold, but not too cold. I’ve always known when the snow is about to come. I bring a bit of home to the West Coast with my grandmother’s hand-painted Black Santa figurines. I remember looking at them when I was a little girl. They have been a part of my Christmas since before I can remember.

Rawles's grandmother’s hand-painted Black Santa figurines. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.

Rawles’s grandmother’s hand-painted Black Santa figurines. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.

Readers at the moment are likely thinking about how they’ll spend the season which includes, hopefully, a few intimate gatherings, whether virtual or in person. Do you enjoy entertaining? If so, what are some tips you have?

I do! I love being surrounded by loved ones. The best advice I can give is to try not to seek perfection. Just enjoy the burnt cookies and laugh through the fumbles. I realized this year I was so focused on cooking the Thanksgiving dinner that I forgot to make dessert. I tried to tell my kids that the candied yams were dessert, but they didn’t buy it and I just had another glass of wine. Try not to stress, and appreciate the moment.

What is your favorite recipe to cook when you have people over? 

I haven’t been cooking as much as I used to, but when I do, I make a mean turkey and spinach lasagna. I’m known for it in my family. It takes a while to make, but I revel in how much others enjoy it.

A paper snowflake cut by Rawles's son. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.

A paper snowflake cut by Rawles’s husband, Gerald. Photo courtesy Calida Rawles.

Do you have any decorating tips for holiday parties or this time of year more generally? 

I take a laid-back approach to decorating. One year I forgot to buy ribbon for the tree and we used toilet paper instead. Use what you got, be resourceful, and make it work!

What about tips for keeping conversations interesting? 

Wine helps.

What does this time of year look like for you, as an artist? What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to spending time with my family, trying to relax. I plan on eating a lot and then being annoyed at my stomachache.

What comes to mind when you think of next year?

A new beginning, which is always exciting.


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