A woman with the uncanny ability to turn three-dimensional imagery into two-dimensional works of art, Alexa Meade has made a name for herself in this extraordinary medium of creative expression. Real life is her canvas and illusions are her specialty. Her unique process takes both artist and subject on a journey into another world — quite literally — as she paints directly to models and the surrounding scenes.
In a 2013 TEDGlobal talk entitled Your Body is my Canvas, she explains:
“If I want to paint your portrait, I’m painting it on you — physically on you. That also means you’re probably going to end up with an ear full of paint because I need to paint your ear on your ear. The mask of paint mimics what is directly below it. In this way, I am able to take a three-dimensional scene and make it look like a two-dimensional painting.”
Described as “swirling paint into a mind-bending remix” and “walking optical illusions”, Alexa’s work began as a study of shadows and how they fall in the three-dimensional world. Although she began with still life, she soon broadened her horizon to paint human beings.
“I found the human form such a compelling subject that I began to focus on it.”
With each new creation, she exaggerates her subject’s features with large, sweeping brush strokes, and highlights their various physical attributes. It’s a mask that doesn’t necessarily obscure but rather illuminates the human form in a way that draws the eye, beckoning one to peel back the many layers of brightly coloured paint and see the true person hidden within. Alexa also moves around her subjects while she paints, creating “an infinite number of compositions depicting the same subject”.
This fascinating technique has catapulted Alexa Meade to international fame. Her work has been exhibited at The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, the Saatchi Gallery in London, the Grand Palais in Paris, and the United Nations building in New York City. She has also worked with some highbrow lifestyle brands like Mini Cooper, Ralph Lauren, Sony, and Porsche. And, surprisingly, she’s collaborated with magician extraordinaire David Blaine… and space-time researchers at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Most recently, she worked on an idyllic beach installation at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June.
Halle Berry admires Alexa’s recent work at Cannes Lions
Embracing disruption is a large part of her ethos as an artist and one of her most spellbinding pieces, Transit, demonstrates this idea perfectly. It also happened quite by accident, she told VICE recently in an in-depth interview.
“I painted this old man in my parents’ basement, and I was going to bring him to an art show I had in Washington, DC, but I couldn’t get a ride. So I ended up taking him on the subway. People started looking at him, as one would, and I just felt myself blushing, thinking, ‘This isn’t ready for people to be looking at in this context. There’s no painted background.’ It wasn’t exactly how I envisioned it, but I decided that I just needed to embrace that it was part of the process. It’s this collision between dimensions: there’s this painted man amidst real people on the subway. So I started taking photos of it and I realized that having this disruption in the picture plane, where it’s no longer just 3D or 2D, was so compelling.”