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Alexa Meade: Dream or Reality?

On reading about or seeing Alexa Meade’s art you will have to think twice. And that is precisely the point. Alexa Meade (Washington DC, 1986) defines her creations as a “reverse trompe l’oeil”. She paints on people’s bodies to create the fantasy of a painting superimposed on reality. “My paintings are like a reverse Trompe-L’Oeil. Unlike traditional Trompe-L’Oeil painting which tricks the eye into thinking a 2D canvas might be a real 3D space, I do the opposite: I take the 3D world and create the illusion that it is a 2D painting.”

Young artist Alexa Meade has melted body-painting into the Trompe-L’Oeil technique, creating an original style. Robert Irwin, the American installation artist, is her main inspiration. She is so original it would be safe to say she is a one-of a kind artist.

I wanted to see what it would look like to put black paint down on shadows. Soon it evolved to painting all the colors as they existed in a 3D space on top of themselves. I realized that by painting in this style, I was able to seemingly collapse depth, making the entire scene, human and all, appear to be a 2D painting.

Her artwork is so striking and has gained such importance that her installations have been exhibited at The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in her hometown Washington DC, The Saatchi Gallery in London, the Grand Palais in Paris, and the United Nations building in New York City. She has also been commissioned by MINI Cooper, Sony, and Porsche. The American magazine Refinery 29 has even equated the importance of her art to that of Banksy’s.

Her freshness and innovative art took her to participate in an outstanding fashion campaign for Ralph Lauren in 2014. Executives from the company were captivated by her arresting TED Talk “Your body is my canvas” where she explained her technique of painting on people with acrylic resulting in living paintings and her outlook on art. In the campaign Meade painted models with denim styles from the brand.

Funny thing is, Meade never went to art school. She was born and raised in politically-soaked Washington DC and went on to study Politic Science at prestigious Vassar University in Poughkeepsie, New York. In 2008, she was working in Obama’s campaign and dreamed of making national headlines. Which she did, when in 2013 her career, in an unexpected turn of events, shifted into art and proved the importance of thinking outside the box. Alexa Meade seems to be following the wise words of another US President, Thomas Jefferson: “If you want something you’ve never had,  you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”

“Before I started making my paintings on people, I hadn't practiced painting in 6 years. I took some sculpture classes in college that really influenced the way I viewed space and relationships between objects. I often times draw upon my past in sculpture in thinking about how to push the concepts in my work.”

I like to paint as much of the background and clothes as I can before the day of the final painting and photo session. I can spend 2 to 5 days painting the walls, floors, and props used in a full body portrait. Painting clothes can take 1 to 4 hours depending on the extensiveness of the drapery and any patterned print. I need to paint the clothes on a stand-in model’s body in order to effectively capture the shadows of the drapery.

On the day of painting the final portrait, my real model puts on the pre-painted clothes and I just paint the face and exposed skin. I like to minimize the time my model has to pose during the painting session so that when it’s comes to the photography, the model feels more lively and engaged.

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