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Mihika Jindal

Meet Alexa Meade, she will turn you into a painting

Alexa Meade’s painted man in the Washington metro.

Alexa Meade, an American artist, employs the classic concept of trompe l'oeil — giving a two-dimensional object a three-dimensional appearance — in reverse order. In a conversation with Guardian20, Meade reflects on her art that often leaves onlookers amused and in awe of her twisted perspectives.

Q. I can understand dabbling with paint on paper, we all do that at some point or the other, but what made you first take a paintbrush directly to people and objects?

A. I was studying Political Science when a regular life was interrupted by this desire of being an artist. The only trouble was that I was 16 when I had last picked up a paintbrush, at a summer camp. It began with my fascination for painting and defining shadows. I thought it would be interesting to turn a three-dimensional space into two-dimensional art. When I graduated, I realised that this was going to upset my parents. Instead of getting a job, I was making my way to the basement, where I spent umpteen hours teaching myself how to paint. I painted everything I saw; from friends to family to breakfast and fruits.

Q. We saw this picture of a painted man on the metro. Was this intended?

A. (Laughs) To take a painted man out in the metro wasn't my idea at all. I was actually hosting one of my first exhibitions in Washington DC. My parents were supposed to give me a ride, but something happened and they couldn't, so I ended up having to take the metro. I was actually embarrassed to take my painted man on the metro because I kept thinking: this is not how my artwork is supposed to be viewed! But the way travellers reacted was overwhelming. They started clicking pictures and it turned out to be a huge opening of my art show. It was completely unexpected.

“It’s quite dynamic that way. Because I know all of it is going to get destroyed by the end of the day, I don’t see myself getting into unnecessary detailing. I can afford to experiment.”

Q. How do you exhibit your work? Is it by way of pictures only or are there live installations as well?

A. It's actually a combination of both. One part is when I paint people in my studio, click their pictures and exhibit those. But there are live installations as well, where I paint my subjects in the gallery itself, which is more effective. Visitors capture the effects in their cameras, each carrying a piece of art with them.

Q. How do you prepare your subject for these exhibitions?

A. I typically call them a day before the exhibition and paint their clothes on their bodies, which can simply be put on just before the exhibition. In addition I take about 45 minutes to get their bodies painted. I prefer them to be comfortable once they have been put in their space. They can move around and emote, if they please. The only restriction is that they can't drink water because that cracks up the paint. I don't create my artwork with one particular angle in my mind, so shifting positions and postures is not a hassle. There was this one time though, when my sister agreed to get painted and even though I told her to be at ease, she chose to sit still for six hours straight. And that was a three-day exhibition. Image 2nd

Q. But you create and wipe out your art for every exhibition. Isn't that painful?

A. It's quite dynamic that way. Because I know all of it is going to get destroyed by the end of the day, I don't see myself getting into unnecessary detailing. I can afford to experiment. At the end of the day, I always have something new. That's not so bad!

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