Meet the Artist Who Body Painted Ariana Grande for "God is a Woman"
Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done.
Before Alexa Meade answered the call to body paint Ariana Grande for her Grammy-nominated “God is a Woman” music video, she was focused on a career in politics. The Washington D.C. native pivoted to painting after an art class elective in college. She’s transformed her fascination with 2D representations of 3D life into her very own style of art, drawing a vast array of fans in the process.
“I've had my work in museums and exhibited in fine art galleries, but then again, I also have teenagers putting pink lipstick on their cheeks to try to look like my painting of Ariana Grande. Seeing the range of people who come to my artwork is amazing,” she says. “My greatest legacy would be working across disciplines and creating work that might not have a label, but that speaks to people in new ways. You just have to see it, experience it, and take the inspiration from it as it speaks to you.”
Accidental artist: “I was an artistic kid, but I never thought I could be an artist,” Meade admits. An elective art class in college changed her mind. Before long, Meade was teaching herself how to paint and developing her own unique style by painting real-world objects and people.
Politics to painting: Meade interned on Capitol Hill for four summers and worked on a half-dozen campaigns (including Barak Obama’s), setting up a very neat and orderly trajectory for her future career. When she finally found her true calling, it wasn’t all that easy to switch gears.
“When I first started making my art after I graduated from college, I was really embarrassed to tell people that I was an artist. When people asked me what I did, I would say, ‘I'm an artist, but really that's a euphemism for being unemployed,’” Meade says. “Now the thing that means the most to me is just that I'm creating and I'm just in bliss. That's more important to me than my parents or other people seeing me as a success.”
Points of pride: Meade’s current Rodeo Drive exhibit, which closes at the end of the year, invites visitors to put on painted clothes and watch painted musicians perform. “We've been getting 1,000 people every day,” Meade says. She's also exceptionally proud of her work with Ariana Grande for her iconic “God is a Woman” video. “It was really exciting working with her. I love her music. She's really a big inspiration for me,” Meade says. “I was excited and absolutely terrified going into it because I knew that I had to get this right and also I wanted to challenge myself outside of what I would normally do.” The video, inspired by a collaboration Mead had previously done with performance artist Sheila Vand, earned a Grammy nomination in December.
Toughest part: Unlike many artists, who can let a piece rest while taking a mental break from their work, Meade paints live, which presents its own set of challenges. “It's hard because if I don't have a good day at the studio, it's not like I can go back and say okay, well, I'll fix it tomorrow or let me get some fresh eyes on it because once the painting is done, it's over and I need to just accept that whatever was created is the final product.” But Meade says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “It does really force me to be focused and pull something out me I didn't know was in there, which is very intense.”
Meade says she struggles to describe the work that she does to people who haven’t seen it. “The largest thing that stood in my way is that I don't have a name for my style of painting,” she says. “There aren't words to describe it succinctly and I think that when you're doing something new, people don't quite know how to wrap their heads around it, so it's really easy to glaze over.”
Doing it her way: “I've had a lot of people tell me, ‘Wow you've reached a large audience of people with your paintings on humans, what if you now start painting on canvas and then people can buy and collect your artwork?’ and I'm like, ‘You just missed the whole point of what has gotten me to this place of notoriety: not doing exactly what everyone else is doing.’”
Art for everyone: “I think a lot of people feel that [art] is not for them, whether it's the ability to create artwork themselves or the feeling of being intimidated going into a gallery or museum space that requires some sort of background knowledge rather than just having a human experience with art,” Meade says. “I think that the art that you appreciate is art that is good. I know so many people who are like, ‘Oh I like to paint, but I don't do it because it doesn't turn out very well.’ If you want to paint something, it doesn't matter whether other people like it or not.”
Insatiable: “There have been so many times where I think that once I reach this I'll be happy and I'll be successful and I'll known I've made it,” Meade says. “And then I'll get there and I'll feel really proud, but then I'll be like, ‘Okay cool, now I want to take over the world.’ I've had to be content with the understanding that I'm never going to be content."