I paint directly on top of live models to create the illusion that real-life people are inside the world of a 2D painting.
Meade didn’t plan to be an artist. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Meade says she laid out a “super-neat path” for herself: “I interned on Capitol Hill for four summers, and then I worked on probably a half-dozen campaigns and studied political science, and I went to Europe to study the European Union.”
But something wasn’t right. “I just felt like even though this was supposed to be my dream, it didn’t quite fit with who I thought I was on the inside,” she says.
Meade’s sharp turn in her story came from something deeper, an urge that was sparked in an elective art class in college. “The professor asked us to create a sculpture that felt like a landscape but was not a sculpture of a landscape. I had no idea what that meant, and I kept asking for clarification, and he told me it was up to me to figure out.”
She thought about capturing a landscape through its shadows rather than objects themselves. “I came up with this idea of putting black paint on the ground where the shadows were,” she says. (Her professor didn’t like her initial project proposal, but she’s quick to credit him as a subsequent mentor in the ways that she thinks about space, light and shadow.)
Thus began her fascination. “I decided to see what it would look like if I put black shadows on the human body,” she says. “And then painting not only shadows but also a full mapping of light in grayscale, highlights, darks, everything coming together in a mask of paint. Just by creating a mask of [shadow and] light with paint, it completely transformed the space. After I discovered this, I think I just had to leave politics behind and make my job teaching myself how to paint, through the process of inventing this new style of painting.”
Meade could make people and things look like two-dimensional paintings of themselves. She abruptly stepped off her path to politics, moved back home and set out on a new journey. “It felt like an incredible risk because I had been building up my entire life to this one moment of making my debut and having a real job, as my parents called it,” she says. “And instead of getting a real job, I decided to make my job painting on grapefruits, and eggs, and things you’re not meant to put paint on. It didn’t really seem like it was a career path, but it felt like something I just had to do.”
Alexa Meade SEEING MORE DIMENSIONS – IN COLOR, AND LIFE
Alexa Meade paints on the human body and three-dimensional spaces, creating the illusion that our reality is a two-dimensional painting.
Her groundbreaking work has been exhibited around the world at the Grand Palais in Paris, the United Nations in New York, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC and Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Her solo show on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was attended by forty-thousand people. She has created large scale interactive installations at Coachella, Cannes Lions, and Art Basel. Alexa has been commissioned by BMW, Sony, Adidas, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. She painted pop star Ariana Grande for her iconic “God is a Woman” music video, which has over 250 million views.
Alexa has lectured at TED, Apple, Stanford, and Princeton and accepted an invitation to the White House under President Obama. She has been honored with the “Disruptive Innovation Award” by the Tribeca Film Festival and has been Artist-in-Residence at both Google and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. InStyle has named Alexa among their “Badass Women.”
Alexa Meade C.V.
Artist Alexa Meade applies paint to the human body and three-dimensional spaces to create the illusion that our reality is a two-dimensional painted dreamscape. Her unique approach has gained her worldwide acclaim with exhibitions in renowned locales including the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Alexa’s ability to move fluidly between dimensions has fascinated people across disciplines. She has collaborated with space-time researchers at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, created illusions with the world-renowned magician David Blaine, and painted on the body of pop superstar Ariana Grande for her iconic “God is a Woman” music video. Alexa’s inspiring TEDGlobal talk, titled Your Body is my Canvas, has been viewed millions of times.
Her experimental short film titled Color of Reality, a collaboration with dancers Lil Buck and Jon Boogz, was lauded by CNN Great Big Story; it earned their “Art as Impact Award,” and the film was also included in the National Civil Rights Museum “Freedom Awards Ceremony.” Alexa has been recognized by the Tribeca Film Festival with the “Disruptive Innovation Award” and was invited to the White House under President Barack Obama. In 2018, Google Arts & Culture selected Alexa, Ely Guerra, and Cristina Kahlo for their Faces of Frida campaign to celebrate both Frida Kahlo’s legacy and the women who carry it on today.
How did you get the idea for your portraits painted to the human body?
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.
Are you a self taught artist?
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.
What do you like to call your style of paintings?
My paintings are a like a reverse Trompe-L’Oeil. Unlike a 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.
You don’t paint the eyes. Why not? Was this an artistic decision or purely for practical purposes?
I have done some experiments in the studio with painting eyes on top of closed eyelids, however, I often prefer the look of leaving the real eyes as is. I like the effect of the subject’s gaze piercing through the paint and gripping the viewer, making the whole painting come to life and creating a tension between two and three dimensions.
Do you think there are some aspects about a career in politics that mirror what you now do in art?
Working on the side of the politics that dealt with spin and PR, I became really fascinated by how we interpret information and the mismatch between what is said and what is heard. I carried over my interest in spin into my art, prompting me to explore the different ways that visual perception can be manipulated.
Did you ever paint on a canvas?
The last time I painted on canvas, I was 16 years old at summer camp. I don’t draft sketches for my 3D paintings on 2D canvas. When I’m conceptualizing a new composition, I like to think about the subject matter as a complete space rather than the static image.
How do you select the people for your paintings?
I used to have to beg friends and family to model for me. I would frequently paint my little sister in exchange for buying her a kabob sandwich.
I don’t have the same problems finding models anymore. They are often people I encounter in real life who for one reason or another captivate me. I get emailed a lot of requests from people who want to model and keep a list. When I am traveling, I may look through this list to find a local model to paint. I also do commissioned portraits.
Please note: It has come to our attention that an unauthorized individual has been soliciting nude photos from women online claiming to be casting models on behalf of Alexa Meade for an alleged nude body painting shoot. Please note that Alexa Meade does not hire models through anonymous 3rd parties nor does she solicit nude images online. If you receive any such request, please contact email@example.com immediately.
What famous artists have influenced you?
I love Robert Irwin’s explorations of shadow and perception. His biography, “Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees” has been highly influential in the development of my work.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a couple of tech collaborations playing with augmented reality as well as virtual reality. I’m creating some tessellating shape tiles as a design toy that helps build spatial intelligence. I’m also turning my house into a funhouse. I built all sorts of contraptions with Chris Hughes like a periscope mirror system that allows me to see outside all of the windows in my house while I’m lying in bed. My pantry doubles as a mini disco hall. My bathroom closet has a neon jungle and demands special diffraction film eyewear that turns the world into rainbows.
What type of paint do you use?
I won’t list specific brands, but I can give some advice. First off, make sure you use paints with the AP safety seal of approval on them! “Professional” or “artist quality” paints can be made with traditional “pigments” that may include heavy metals that are dangerous for skin contact. Studio grade paints are made with synthetic “hues” that are safer for skin contact. For example, you want to choose a label that says “cadmium red hue” and NEVER “cadmium red pigment.” Stay safe!
What is the most difficult part of your process?
That once it’s done, it’s done. You can’t go back and use fresh eyes to touch things up. This is really challenging. Sometimes I’ll make what I think is a perfect painting and then when I later look at the pictures, I might notice a stray brush stroke or something has gone weird. Because I don’t paint in photoshop, whatever photo I snapped, that is what I’m left with to exhibit.
It’s not a static painting, but a real person, so there are the awkward in between moments. There are eyes half closed, and people that are having bad hair days …in a traditional painting there’s no such thing as a bad hair day unless it’s an intentional decision.
What is your process for portraits?
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 2-5 days painting the walls, floors, and props used in a full body portrait. Painting clothes can take 1-4 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.
Tribeca Film Festival, Disruptive Innovation Award
CNN Great Big Story, Art as Impact Award
Neural Correlate Society, Judge, Best Optical Illusion of the Year
Summit Series, Artist-in-Residence
South by South Lawn, Invitation to the Obama White House
Toronto International Film Festival, Best Experimental Short Film
Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, Fellow
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Canada
Summit Series, Eden, UT
Summit at Sea, International Waters of the Earth
Memrise, London, UK
Sculpture Space, Utica, NY
Proyecto Frida, Museo Dolores Omedo, Mexico City, Mexico
Euphoria SoundBox, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco, CA
The Art of Transformation BASF, Kulturhaus, Schwarzheide, Germany
Summer Session, Union Station, Los Angeles, CA
Bold, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, CA
SkySpace, U.S. Bank Tower, Los Angeles, CA
Color of Reality, Vérone, Saint-Denis, France
Self-Portraits, Galleria Sagittaria, Pordenone, Italy
A Life in Colors (Solo), Ingo Seufert Gallery for Contemporary Photography, Munich, Germany
Become the Masterpiece, 29Rooms, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
The Art of VR, Sotheby’s, New York, NY
Step into the Frame, Instagram, Pavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzo, São Paulo, Brazil
Wander and Wonder, Instagram, Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Cannes, France
Maurice Lacroix, Baselworld, Basel, Switzerland
Color of Reality, Galerie Tem, Goviller, France
Color of Reality, Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen, CO
Green Earth, Brookfield Arts, Los Angeles, CA
Whow, PopTech, Camden, ME
Become the Masterpiece, 29Rooms
Los Angeles, CA
The Fader, Boom Basel, Miami, FL
Premiéres (Solo), Ingo Seufert Gallery for Contemporary Photography, Munich, Germany
Freedom Awards Ceremony, National Civil Rights Museum, Nashville, TN
Dance on Camera, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
Flux Series, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Meade Museum (Solo), Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach, FL
Satellite Spirit, Espace Marais Marais, Paris, France
Pasteur Institut, United Nations Building, New York, NY
Self-Reflection, The Untitled Space Gallery, New York, NY
Color of Reality, Summit at Sea, Miami, FL
Palacio de Hierro, Mexico City, Mexico
Art Munich Art Fair, Munich, Germany
Stroke Art Fair, Munich, Germany
Le Pressionnisme 1970 – 1990, les chefs-d’œuvre du graffiti sur toile de Basquiat à Bando, Pinacothèque de Paris, Paris, France
After Dark Illusions, Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA
Alexa Meade: A Colloquium Exploring the Dimensions of Space, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Canada
Alexa Meade: Your Body Is My Canvas (Solo), Galerie Sisso, Paris, France
Art Paris Art Fair, Grand Palais, Paris France
Alexa Meade: Living Colors (Solo), Ingo Seufert Gallery for Contemporary Photography, Luxembourg
12.6.15-12.6.14, Ingo Seufert Gallery for Contemporary Photography, Munich, Germany
Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture, The Bridges Organization, Baltimore, MD
Alexa Meade: Surfaces & Depths (Solo), Ingo Seufert Gallery for Contemporary Photography, Munich, Germany
Project Warehouse, Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply
Santa Monica, CA
NOT NORMAL, MINI Cooper, Shibuya 109, Tokyo, Japan
Intro15, Ingo Seufert Gallery for Contemporary Photography, Munich, Germany
Alexa Meade + Sheila Vand: MILK, Bijou Theater Artisphere, Arlington, VA
Camera-Ready Color, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC
Performing the Body, Galerie Ivo Kamm, Zürich, Switzerland
Kunst 11, Galerie Ivo Kamm, Zürich, Switzerland
You Are Here, Dorian Grey Gallery, New York, NY
Artist Tribute Exhibition 2, Irvine Contemporary, Washington, DC
Saturnalia, Irvine Contemporary, Washington, DC
The Art of Giving, Saatchi Gallery, London, England
Picture Planes (Two-person exhibition), Irvine Contemporary, Washington, DC
Mirror, Mirror, Postmasters Gallery, New York, NY
TEDGlobal, Edinburgh, UK
Q Symposium: Peace and Security in a Quantum Age, University of Sydney, AUS
Apple, Cupertino, CA
Google X, Mountain View, CA
Adobe, San Francisco, CA
Facebook at Cannes Lions, Cannes, FR
The Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA
National Cathedral School, Washington, DC
California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
University of California – Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
New York University, New York, NY
National Geographic, London, UK
WIRED Conference, London, UK
TEDxLondonBusinessSchool, London, UK
PopTech, Camden, ME
Social Innovation Summit, Silicon Valley, CA