alexa meade redefining still life

Confession of the day: I really enjoy watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. Next confession: I never actually do these tutorials. For me, it’s like watching a magic trick, a bewildering series of transformations. Cheekbones emerge from thin air; full, pouty, red lips adorn smiles; eyelids turn into a canvas of shimmery depth; their skin becomes a dewy, golden landscape.

I think it’s easy to think of these young ladies as airheads, publicizing their vanity for the world ten minutes at a time. But I, for one, am so humbled by them. They break down the idea that perfection greets certain people in the morning. They wipe their faces clean, exposing the blank canvas. Every single technique is voiced over in obsessive detail, letting virtually anyone follow along.

Even better, the “imperfections” in the before shots are called out for what they are: reality. For those struggling with acne, there are hoards of videos of young women showing their own skin’s turmoil to literally thousands of viewers. And as someone who has had her fair share (well, it’s never fair, is it) of skin issues, I just think: if that’s not humbling, if that’s not courage, if that’s not something we should all bow down and raise our hands to in a time when the only faces you see are those that have been airbrushed or already guised in a thin (or excessively thick) layer of concealer, I don’t know what is.

So this led me to a cheesy albeit vital conclusion. Every blank canvas is different, but every blank canvas is beautiful. No matter what you do with your canvas, holy bejeezus, you’re beautiful. Whether makeup is a minimalist endeavour, or a full expedition across the seven seas, the face that awaits you on both sides is beautiful.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a mantra most of us are familiar with. Sure, we’ve heard it in magazines, and corny blog posts (*cough* yay me *cough*), but very few are blessed with toting around this message in their head all day. After all, how we feel about the canvas we’ve been given can change daily, or by the minute. Sometimes I look in the mirror with no makeup on and offer myself a proud salute, but other times I shrink back, or avoid meeting my eyes at all costs. But guess what? That happens with or without makeup. Makeup doesn’t solve self-esteem issues or confidence. In some ways, it can exacerbate low self-esteem.

One easy example is when you forgo eyeliner and someone swoops in and offers their “sympathies”: Wow, you look so tired today! Get much sleep? In fact, I had a beauty of nine hours, but I’ll go along with you anyway due to your genuinely pained expression and say, Oh, man, yeah, brutal night *fake yawn blended with the fakest of fake laughs*. In this case, makeup kind of sucks. But there are other times, perhaps when you applied a touch of creamy foundation with some blush, and someone says, Wow, your skin is looking radiant! And you proceed to bat your lashes and say aw shucks, the cloud beneath your footsteps remaining there all day. That’s kind of magic.

But here’s the thing. Makeup alone is not a magic trick. When you have nothing on, and someone says you look *cringe* “really tired”, a dose of confidence can rid that remark of condescension and you can instead look at it from a good humoured perspective. A joke between you, yourself, and your lack of makeup. On the other hand, if you receive a compliment for your radiant skin and low self-esteem snarls, It’s just because you have makeup on, that feeling of walking on cloud nine will likely dissipate.

Makeup doesn’t work magic on its own. Makeup works magic with you. In fact, it needs you. Because guess what? Makeup needs that beautiful face of yours to do any magic at all. Makeup can put a smile on your face, give you an extra kick in your step, or make you feel like you would be one of those people who didn’t look ridiculous doing a “sexy meow/growl.” That all feels a little magical. But when someone compliments you, they’re complimenting you, not your makeup. Bobbi Brown Foundation isn’t the subject here. You are. Bobbi Brown Foundation on its own is just a puddle of cream. You, though, you’re the masterpiece people want to see.

Now I know you’re probably tired of me jabbering on about how we’re all beautiful inside and out, with or without makeup (we all have to hear it!), but I thought this bad-ass painter, Alexa Meade, was kind of unreally perfect for what we’re talking about. Alexa takes real people as her canvas. Real people. She then picks up her magic paintbrushes and drapes them in colours, shadows, light, and texture so as to transform three dimensional humans and environments into two dimensional paintings.

The results are nothing short of holy shit. 

So really, Alexa demonstrates the irony of our perception of art. Art evokes feelings, sensations, desires, and that unnamed sense of something novel stirring in our stomachs and chests. We look to art for a reaction, for a connection with something or someone beyond our grasp. Yet, aren’t we doing the same when we look to each other? Our interactions with someone are really with the image they have shaped of themselves over time, the image they feel comfortable with the world seeing.

When Alexa paints onto her human being canvases, we begin to look at them as the art projects they really are. The woman we crossed on the street is just a fleeting image of who she really is. Some of our perception of her is coloured by our own experiences, our own random mood at that moment, but some of our perception is shaped by the very way in which she has presented herself to us. And in a beautiful yet somewhat heartbreaking way, the humanity of Meade’s subjects, that truth lying open on the blank canvas beneath the layers of paint, is more exposed than ever before. Meade’s work demands a reevaluation of how we perceive others and, ultimately, how we judge others.

After all, isn’t everyone just a work-in-progress offering themselves to the world as though they’re a finished product?