Acrylic on Flesh: The Startling Living Paintings of Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade in the self-portrait Double Take, 2010
Alexa Meade in the self-portrait Double Take, 2010

“The works must be conceived with fire in the soul but executed with clinical coolness,” Spanish painter Joan Miró once said. Nearly 35 years after Miró’s death, using the human body as a canvas has been a deep and continuous source of inspiration, solace and learning for Alexa Meade. The American installation artist creates mind-boggling works of art that literally breathe.

The 32-year-old Los Angeles-based artist that was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is known for painting directly onto the bodies and faces of humans. Using brushstrokes and shadows, she can artfully camouflage figures into their background, turning 3D scenes into 2D images, finally revealing the real person that is hidden somewhere underneath. Meade uses the art technique “Trompe-L’oeil” in reverse while painting. “Unlike a traditional Trompe-L’oeil painting which tricks the eye into thinking a 2D canvas might be a real 3D space, I do the opposite: I take the 3D world and create the illusion that it is a 2D painting,” she explains.

  • Modern Woman, 2016. Vincent Little Hat was the model for a live performance during the vernissage of Alexa.

Although Alexa Meade studied political science, interned on Capitol Hill and worked for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign, she decided to switch gears and become a professional artist in 2009. “Working on the side of the politics that dealt with spin and PR, I became really fascinated by how we interpret information and the mismatch between what is said and what is heard. I carried over my interest in spin into my art, prompting me to explore the different ways that visual perception can be manipulated,” Alexa shares with her audience when asked why she left everything behind to become an artist.

Alexa got her big break after the blog published an article on body painting and someone posted the following comment: “Hey if you like that work, you might as well check out Alexa Meade.” The next day, the blog posted a photo, and a caption about her and her work went viral.

Since then, her creations have been presented worldwide and received critical acclaim from CNN, Wired, National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, VICE, Vogue, Refinery29 and more. Alexa Meade has collaborated with Porsche, Sony, Instagram, MINI Cooper, and Ralph Lauren, and she has been the recipient of prestigious honors and awards.

  • Straighten up - NPG, 2012. At the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in 2012, Alexa created a live performance featuring Tammie Kahnhauser and sister Julie Meade.

View Alexa Meade’s TED Talk “Your Body is my Canvas” below: