Photo by the Maxwells, Philip & Ruby June
Photo by the Maxwells, Philip & Ruby June
In my main body of artwork, I paint on people and three-dimensional installation spaces, bringing painting to life. During live performances, models are transformed from normal everyday people into two-dimensional paintings. Onlookers are often fascinated by this process of transformation, but the moment that the painting is complete there is a shift in the audience — they really come alive. People start taking their own photos of the model, framing their own compositions of the three-dimensional painting.
There is real power in allowing people to engage with a work of art as a participant, not just as a detached observer. Looking at art no longer has to be a passive experience; it can become something active, you can participate in it, you can become part of the artwork.
I decided to make the interactivity front and center for my solo exhibition, Immersed in Wonderland, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. I transformed a 4,000 square foot space into fully painted environments for visitors to step into and become part of the artwork. In addition to painting models for live audiences, I had painted hundreds of costumes for guests to try on and become part of the painting. There was almost a theatrical quality to it as full-grown adults played dress up and inhabited characters in this fantastically painted world. Rather than the exhibit being about a select few individuals with paint on their faces, Immersed in Wonderland was about everyone in the room joining into the artwork and becoming subjects of the painting.
After the success of the first exhibition, Immersed in Wonderland is touring to New York City. It has taken over a 14,000 square foot venue in Midtown Manhattan — transforming the space into a dreamscape painted world, one can explore and get lost within.
Immersed in Wonderland gives viewers a new way of experiencing a painting — the painting is no longer confined to the static rectangle of a canvas, but rather it is something that now exists in all dimensions in a space that one can actually inhabit. It is no longer simply viewing a painting; now it is experiencing a painting. The painting is turned into a living, breathing thing that is constantly evolving with every new person.
Allowing other voices to participate in and contribute to my work has been an incredibly humbling experience. Each new person who steps into the painted world brings their own unique personality, style, and presence — and the artwork itself completely transforms and changes. It takes on a new tone, a new feeling, a new gesture, and a new voice. You, yourself are the masterpiece and we are co-creating together.
Curious about what inhabiting a painting would be like? Alexa Meade’s “Immersed In Wonderland” is the key. When you enter the exhibit, your senses are on high alert, attempting to process the different colors and dimensions and perspectives before you. All around you, everything is painted — the walls, floor, furniture, clothes, accessories, props, chandelier, and even the piano — allowing you to become part of these worlds, literally stepping inside the paintings around you.
Strangely, you hear someone whisper, “She’s real! She’s blinking!”, and wonder what they could possibly be talking about. You turn to face a scribbled tangle of black-and-white lines on a living room setting and see a fully painted woman posing on a chaise longue. She is completely covered in black and white paint (yes, even her eyelids and ears!), and when you take a step back for a photo, your 3D world suddenly becomes a 2D pen and ink drawing. Playing with the relationship between light and shadow, painting and photography, for her first performance of the night, Meade made the woman look as though she could traverse between our world and a work of art. Connecting these different realms are the model’s piercing blue eyes, which let you know that yes, she is in fact real.
As you wander around the installation, you pass an icy purple and blue forest where a woman is wearing a cape made heavy with paint. There’s also a playroom where children are now putting on painted dresses and running to sit at a miniature piano. In the center of the room, on your way to the full-size grand piano, you pass a mirror that makes you do a double-take. To your right, people who arrived separately are brought together as they take a seat at the pink and green dining room table, passing around the painted watermelon slices, green grapes, and a bottle of rosé. Looking down at your legs, sisters adorned with paint-covered jewelry are weaving through the crowd, riding double-decker on a tricycle. No matter how many times you check, it always looks as though you’ve entered a different dimension. This feeling becomes even more pronounced when you witness the painter’s final performance.
At the piano, with his monochrome painted companion behind him, musician Keith Harrison is playing a composition while being painted by Meade herself. In this moment, you can’t help but feel as though your imagination is exploding. A diverse crowd has gathered around the piano, marvelling at how truly immersive their surroundings are. Rather than standing behind a velvet rope and looking at a painting on a museum wall, they can interact with the painting. They can sit on the piano bench and play. They themselves can dress up to create their own painted wonderlands, capturing this rare 3D-turned-2D perspective forever on camera. Here, they won’t only see the art — they can also be the art.
The Alexa Meade solo exhibition “Immersed In Wonderland,” ran from November 15 to December 23rd, 2018 at 262 N. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California. On November 15, November 30, and December 15 Meade created special live performances in the gallery.