Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Isn’t it fascinating when a painter can so excellently capture the real world? Bring 3D to 2D? Well what about when a painter does the opposite? That’s what Alexa Meade does. Alexa Meade seeks to take elements of the 3D world and combine them with abstract painting and color techniques to create a 2D painting in real life. In other words, rather than painting something and trying to make it look as real as possible, she takes something real and tries to make it look as painted as possible. It’s a totally new technique, working backwards from real life, and she’s developed her technique into an amazing series of photographs, videos, installations, and performances. Meade has taken the art world by storm over the last few years and revolutionized the modern idea of painting by making us think differently about the medium, as so many other influential artists have.
Meade had a bit of an interesting start in art, she didn’t go to school for art, she’s not traditionally trained as a painter, she almost just stumbled upon an art style that she invented through a fascination with shadows. She started out very simply, painting shadows on grass to make them appear permanent. With this new idea of tracking shadows and permanence she turned her attention to the human form, and painting on shadows as they would naturally appear with black and white. But painting people is hard enough when you’re copying their pose on a canvas, painting directly onto the person is one hell of a chore and Meade didn’t want to run down that alley quite yet. She took the time to paint household objects, a lot of food, and through this she was able to learn painting, learn how color and shadows worked, and develop this 3D to 2D style in a way that made her feel ready to come back to painting people. In 2012 Meade gave an incredibly informative Ted Talk about her work, and the origins of her style that goes into much more detail than I can go to so you can check that out if you’d like to get more, it’s only about 10 minutes long and a fun watch.
Still worried about bothering models, Meade began painting herself and it was here that she realized how truly dynamic her new technique was. These weren’t just paintings depicting a scene at one vantage point, these are real life and real life can be documented at several angles with several different emotions. This brought her to begin two different avenues in her work that are equal parts painting, photography, performance, and installation; the first was taking a 3D scene and totally making it into a 2D work of art and the other was taking a person, painting them into 2D and just sending them out into the world.
I’ll talk about both of them but I want to start with the latter because it’s how I first stumbled upon Meade’s work and became fascinated with her work. Look at this photo of a painting of a man in a real train! It’s crazy! When I first saw this I did my usual deduction of art I don’t understand and tried to rationalize what photoshop wizardry or unattainable painting talent was at work here and I couldn’t figure it out! Meade paints in the color and shadow to totally flatten these people out and then just sends them into the world to blow minds. Imagine being on the train and seeing one of these people coming at you. She’s even taken it further and gone back to her black and white roots, flattening these people beyond color and further separating her subjects from reality. Meade makes several different styles exist in the real world and shows the versatility of both her talent as a painter and her painting technique itself.
But what else can Meade do with her painting technique? She can totally flatten full scenes and create these human dioramas that give 360 degree views of what paintings would look like if you were standing in the room with them. Where her painted people in the real world show the ins and outs of her technique, these pieces push the boundaries between 2D and 3D. She’s taking full scenes and flattening them out, then using photography to document them and confuse the viewer beyond all belief. Like I mentioned with the other style, Meade experiments with several forms of human abstraction and it’s awesome. Although this painting technique is innovative, I feel like it could have gotten really stale if she kept painting things in the same way, so the ingenuity in painting styles, as well as references to other painters, keeps things extremely fresh and fun.
Meade also did a super cool series of her painted figures submerged in pools of milk that add a new element of color flow to the pieces. The pool of milk acts like a flat white surface that the faces come forward from, but Meade’s painting on them creates that classic push and pull between 2D and 3D. This series is incredibly innovative and pushes the importance of the photography elements of her work. Again, Meade has a video that’s super insightful on her process of this series and since I wanted to focus more on her other work, I’ll let that do the talking on that series and save my more in depth analysis for another day. This technique was also featured in Ariana Grande’s God is a Woman music video which is awesome, I love to see popular artists help promote other artists with their platform.
To only call Alexa Meade a painter is, in my opinion, a huge discredit to her work. Meade’s work combines an incredibly inventive painting technique with elements of installation, performance, photography, and much more. She’s one of my favorite painters and any artist like this who pushes the inventiveness of their craft is always fun to watch progress. Meade has come into some incredible commercial success and the creativity of her work has not slowed down. I’m excited to see what she’s got next or where she goes to push her painting even more. Thank you to Meade and her team for allowing me to use her images and videos to write this and I hope to soon get a formal interview because that would be incredible, again one of my favorite painters here! You can find more of Alexa Meade's work on here website at alexameade.com, on facebook at fb.com/alexameade, and on Instagram @alexameadeart. They're all definitely worth a follow!