Alexa Meade takes everyday objects and makes them her canvas. Her latest work involves a Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe and blends painting and photography to surreal effect
There is a paint brush besides the camera, a light meter next to the colour palette. A quick glance at the artist’s utensils does not quite reveal whether we are about to witness the creation of a photograph or painting. The answer is: both. US-American artist Alexa Meade does not paint on canvas, but prefers to apply thick slabs of paint straight onto people or objects. With coarse, deft strokes, Meade covers and changes the clothes and facial features of her model until, bit by bit, her three-dimensional template becomes a two-dimensional picture. As the pigment only stays in place for a few hours, the artist preserves her work through photography. The resulting images tease our eyes with an optical illusion that confounds and delights in equal measures: No longer is it clear or discernible if the result is a true painting – or simply something or someone covered in paint.
For her Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe transformation, Meade picked a park in Washington DC “The paint covers precisely what it is meant to show and reveal,” explains the 25-year-old artist – an ephemeral moment, captured in broad, colourful strokes of the brush. It is this playful approach to our visual perception, to the blurred boundaries between painting and photography and the question of image and copy, that Alexa likes to explore in her work. To pursue this particular path, the political science graduate even declined a promising career on Capitol Hill.
When influential art blogger Jason Kottke picked up on her evocative art, Alexa rose to fame almost overnight. Back then, Meade remembers, she was truly overwhelmed and shocked by the resounding success of her work. Nowadays, a few years down the line, she is considered a household name at eminent spaces like London’s Saatchi Gallery and can afford to fully focus on her art.
Meade welcomed the challenge of translating her reverse trompe l’œil technique to a C-Class Coupe. “Working on a car, with its dimensionality and dynamics, is actually quite tricky,” she explains. “Every time I moved my head a tiny bit, the reflections would move as well – and thus the surface reference points that I need to apply the paint correctly.” Despite these challenges, Meade managed to transform the coupe into the semblance of a two-dimensional vehicle. “During the subsequent shoot, the sun started to go down. All of a sudden, the light didn’t quite match the mood I had had in mind anymore. But instead of fighting it, I decided to reflect and capture this particular atmosphere.” The result is a dynamic snapshot imbued with a mysterious ambience.
The artist’s studio is strewn with paint-covered objects and items of clothing from her inimitable images. They resemble painted fragments from another reality. And although we are familiar with her archetypal optic illusion by now, the effect does not wear off with exposure: Immediately, you want to touch everything you see to reaffirm the objects’ existence.
On one of her studio’s walls, Alexa Meade collects quotes that inspire her time and again. And one of these sayings, paraphrasing one of her favourite artists James Turrell, states the following: We can only view reality with our backs to reality.