Rather than painting realistic images on canvas, taking surreal photographs, or painting renditions of well-known art on human bodies, 24-year-old Washington, D.C., artist Alexa Meade has brought the three together, painting her subjects as artistically rendered versions of themselves and then snapping photos of them in a variety of painted and unpainted settings. It’s a fresh mix of acrylic painting, performance art, and photography that asks us to reconsider the relationship between art and reality.
One piece, Transit (above), features an elderly man standing in a subway car, looking entirely convincing as a two-dimensional image, and I love the reactions of the unpainted people around him, who aren’t sure what’s going on but are trying to seem indifferent. The painted man, on the other hand, seems isolated, almost like a cardboard cut-out. The photo asks: “What if art really lived among us? Rode the subway with us, like anyone else?” It takes art off the wall and goes for a walk with it, just to see what happens: how it interacts with its environment, or doesn’t, and how its presence alters our perceptions of everything else.
Meade has also made several self-portraits. Of these, Alexa Split in Two (right) has perhaps the most to say about the give-and-take between art and reality as we compare the unpainted self with the painted self: there’s a kind of textural movement in the stillness of the image that we likely wouldn’t have noticed without the paint; we can better see the play of light and color on her skin and the contours of her bone structure. Visually, it’s the left half that has more life and it enriches our impression of reality. The image shows us how Meade views the world — with sharper, more sensitive and sensual eyes — through her versions of herself as both art and artist.
What do you think of Ms. Meade’s work? How does it affect your views of reality and art?