Alexa Meade does make paintings of people, but on people. The 24-year-old self-taught artist paints over people so that they look like paintings, then photographs them either in a natural setting or with a painted background.
Her works on display at the Irvine Contemporary Gallery in Washington, includes one of a man under a beach umbrella, partly obscured by shade, leaving ambiguity on of whether the shade is real or imposed by the artist.
She has created dozens of works like these using friends or people who order such portraits.
“My life passion has always been art,” she said in an interview.
She describes the process of the work, which takes 10 to 30 hours of painting over people’s skin and clothing with non-toxic acrylic paint and other ingredients.
“It’s not just straight paint, there’s between 11 and 13 different ingredients,” she said. Her concoction won’t dry out as quickly as paint, is more flexible and won’t crack.
Her work is “a combination of painting, photography, installation and performance.”
“Even if the final product is a photograph, it’s more than that, its also about the performance of the model and the application of the paint and all the other components,” she said.
“I’m creating my own interpretation of reality directly on top of reality.”
Her works include a self portrait in which half her body and clothing are painted. The end result is a photograph, which can sell for around $2,000.
Sometimes during the process the model moves around, in some cases taking the Washington Metro, drawing some unusual stares.
People “didn’t understand what was going on, a lot of people avoiding make eye contact,” said Meade, who has a degree from Vassar College and also studied at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
Martin Irvine, the gallery owner, said Meade has come up with something new.
“It’s very difficult in the art world to have a new concept,” he said.
“She figured out a way of working with a 3-D (object) to flatten it… they look flat even when you’re standing in front of it,” he said.