Artist Alexa Meade's background isn't actually in art of photography, but you'd never guess it if looking at her work.
In true opposition to many great classical painters, Alexa Meade doesn’t hope to recreate reality in her paintings; she wants to paint reality (re: people) and then flatten it so it takes on an “artificial”, painted appearance.
If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Basically, Meade transforms three-dimensional subjects–be they people, food or other objects–to to two-dimensional “works” through paint, and then flattens them by photographing them. And it’s absolutely fascinating.
After Meade’s confidence bloomed, she stared enlisting other models to paint (at first just family and friends), and added a liquid into the mix – milk. By lying in a pool of it, Alexa Meade’s models were subject to the unpredictable nature of how it would react with the paint. And as it turned out, the milk made for some unique and beautiful paintings.
But when your goal is to paint over every part of a person in order to photograph them, what do you do about the window to the soul, the eyes? “I have done some experiments in the studio with painting eyes on top of closed eyelids” Meade says, “However, I often prefer the look of leaving the real eyes as is. I like the effect of the subject’s gaze piercing through the paint and gripping the viewer, making the whole painting come to life and creating a tension between two and three dimensions.”
There’s absolutely no photo-manipulating once the models are photographed, which Meade admits is sometimes the hardest part of the entire process. “… once it’s done, it’s done. You can’t go back and use fresh eyes to touch things up. This is really challenging. Sometimes I’ll make what I think is a perfect painting and then when I later look at the pictures, I might notice a stray brush stroke or something has gone weird. Because I don’t paint in Photoshop, whatever photo I snapped, that is what I’m left with to exhibit.”
In case you’re thinking of duplicating this painting style at home, it should be noted that the kind of paint used to paint on human skin is very important. “First off, make sure you use paints with the AP safety seal of approval on them!” Alexa Meade advises.
“Professional or ‘artist quality’ paints can be made with traditional “pigments” that may include heavy metals that are dangerous for skin contact. Studio grade paints are made with synthetic ‘hues’ that are safer for skin contact.
For example, you want to choose a label that says ‘cadmium red hue’ and NEVER ‘cadmium red pigment’. Stay safe!” She also uses a thin coat of latex over the skin as a primer, but reiterates, “First make sure your model doesn’t have a latex allergy by asking and then double check with a spot test.”