Artist Alexa Meade is a painter who does not use a canvas.
Her artistic practice hovers somewhere between painting, installation, and performance art. She paints directly onto the bodies of her live models, using loose brushstrokes to collapse the appearance of depth and make her subjects appear two-dimensional. She then photographs her models, and the still images visually resemble paintings on canvas.
Trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that artists have been using for centuries to trick the eye into believing that a two-dimensional image looks as real as a three-dimensional one by creating extremely detailed, hyper-realistic depictions of objects. Meade takes the concept of trompe l’oeil and turns it on its head. Once painted, that which is three-dimensional looks as if it was created on a two-dimensional surface. She paints her subjects and their surroundings with heavy, large brushstrokes, which creates an optical illusion that collapses any sense of depth.
Meade is entirely self-taught; as she ruminates on in her TEDx talk “Your body is my canvas,” after earning her degree in political science from Vassar College she made a career path U-turn and ended up teaching herself how to paint in her parent’s basement. At first, she used her own body as her canvas, creating a series of self-portrait photographs of herself covered in angular paint strokes.
These initial works of art were only documented and circulated as photographs. In the past year, the Los Angeles-based artist has broken out of that format and created more interactive works that have appeared at Art Paris Art Fair, Boom Basel in Miami, and the United Nations in New York City. These “Living Paintings” are created on temporary sets in public spaces, where viewers can see Meade painting the model, and then see the finished product. She has had live models pose in gallery settings and has even done a live painting session in the streets of Tokyo as a promotional event for Mini Cooper in 2013.
Meade’s performance art-style displays ride the same wave of Instagram-able art that Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest & Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. This is probably because you can photograph her work from any angle and the illusion still holds up. Her immersive, painted environments simulate the act of walking into a painting. And in some cases, it is her models walk out of their paintings. Her latest collaboration with hip hop dancer Jon Boogz in “The Color of Reality” has the two central dancers move out of their painted space onto the street.
Alexa Meade wants her audiences “to find the strange in the familiar… to look beyond what’s already been brought to light, and to see that there can always be more than meets the eye.”