How Painter Alexa Meade Creates Dimension-Collapsing Art

Alexa Meade was on her way to a wonky career in politics when an art class turned her world upside down.

The assignment was to “create a sculpture that felt like a landscape but was not a sculpture of a landscape,” Meade recalls. So she painted the shadows and highlights of a friend’s face. But she painted them right back onto his face. She then photographed him and was instantly perplexed.

“I didn’t quite understand what was going on. Because when I photographed it, my friend looked like he was a two-dimensional painting,” says Meade.

The effect was so strange Meade thought her camera was broken. Her friend looked 3D in front of her, but on the screen he looked like art. “I decided I don’t know what this is, but I have to play with it and see what happens and do more and develop it,” she says.

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Since then, Meade’s traded politics for paintbrushes and elaborated on her technique, learning how to make entire rooms, outfits, and even cars appear 2D. She’s played with styles, working in Impressionist daubs and smears, the high-contrast black and white of Banksy-style street art, and the bold color of pop art. Her work has taken her around the world, painting commissions for fashion brands, a pop star for her music video, and even a friend’s marriage proposal.

One of Meade’s latest projects is an installation at Google’s Spruce Goose offices in Los Angeles. As one of the company’s Artists in Residence, she’s working with Google’s AR/VR team to digitally capture the installation as a rainbow-hued depth map. Then, because Meade loves to play with layers of perception, she’s painting her version of the depth map back onto the installation. After she finished the work, the AR/VR team captured it again using their DeepView method so that eventually it can be turned into an augmented reality experience.

“It’s quite meta,” says Meade. “It’s going from the physical 3D to the computational photography’s interpretation of the 3D, painting that back onto reality, and then capturing it once more.”

Watch the video above to learn more about Meade’s meta work.

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