Turning the page with artist innovator Alexa Meade.
Fast-forward from the January 2017 issue of 24Life, and the internationally renowned artist has earned the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award for her disruptive approach to portraiture; appeared at Cannes Lions courtesy of Instagram; and was featured in 29Rooms, Refinery29’s art-slash-cultural phenomena—and those were just a few highlights from 2017. So we asked Meade for her perspective on her year and her story.
24Life: You literally gave people a chance to wear a different perspective by putting on the light and shadow you painted on clothing and a set, in your 29Rooms installation, “Become the Masterpiece.” How did visitors respond?
Alexa Meade: When people go to a museum, they often slowly walk by a painting, and then they keep walking. “Become the Masterpiece” was an opportunity to design an experience for people to engage in actively, rather than observe passively. I allowed them to become part of the painting, to put on painted clothes, sunglasses, props, and mix and match and create their own look. There were certain pieces that I painted with a specific idea, like a top to go with a jacket, or a skirt to be worn a particular way.
But people wore the skirt as a cape, and then they folded the jacket up to become a hat—things that were just so creative and completely outside of what I, as the artist, had intended. They completed something that was so much greater than I could have imagined or had the forethought to know was even possible. It was really inspiring. There are thousands of pictures from the event and people bring something completely unique to each one, that I couldn’t predict. All of a sudden there was this alchemy that clearly is dependent upon the human presence, and what the individual offers.
24Life: In your art, you practice seeing light and shadow and bringing both forward by painting them on people and objects. What’s one thing you do to practice perspective in life outside of the studio?
AM: This past semester at the Braille Institute, I’ve been volunteering in the sensory awareness program, which is primarily for people who are losing their vision and learning how to adjust to life without sight. Mobility is a significant topic, and a student might ask, “Well, why do I need to know how to walk through the center of the room? Why can’t I just walk along the wall and along the edges, and then way I’m sure not to run into anything or lose my balance?” The instructor explains that’s just living life literally in two dimensions. You’re just following the edges rather than actually going out into the third dimension and charting a path that’s your own, or actually experiencing the whole volume of the room.
The instructor also explains that a lot of people who used to have sight imagine seeing from where their head is, from their eyes. Instead, he tells them to imagine that as they’re walking, they are seeing from the tips of their toes and feeling how their joints are moving in their feet, to understand where they are in space. It’s literally turning perception on its head.
So whenever I see a big open space where there’s nothing I could run into and there’s no one there, like an empty parking lot with no obstructions, I like to just close my eyes and just walk and have that feeling of, “I’m not exactly sure where I am in space.” I know that I’m safe, but it’s also terrifying because every step takes me farther into a space that’s unknown.
24Life: Based on your experiences in 2017, what advice would you give someone creating their story in 2018?
AM: You have to create sacred space to protect the time for your art, as well as the mental space in which you can allow yourself to daydream—that white, blank space where you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. That’s something I find really valuable because if I’m just going from project to project, then I always have some goal in mind or some deadlines. Having that time for existential dread where I don’t know what’s coming next—I have to just make it—is really important.
My favorite quote is, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.” Even if I feel like I’m on top of everything, I’m always thinking about what I can do to set myself up for the next big thing—so that when luck does knock, I am prepared to answer it.
Photo: Tom Casey, box24studio.com; hair and make-up: Akua Ausset
Video courtesy of Alexa Meade, Jennifer Pearl @rideorcry and Violet Overn