Painting in The Light Field | Alexa Meade | Talks at Google
Thank. You Paula is an incredible, introduction. As, you. Mentioned my work is three-dimensional. I paint, physically, in real. Spaces and on top of people to make them look like a two-dimensional, painting, from. Every possible direction that. You would photograph this work the, illusion maintains its, not viewpoint dependent, all. Of, this is done just with my paintbrush directly. On the skin of the model or on the backgrounds. None of this effect, is created digitally, a. Lot. Of people wondering if I always. Knew I want to be an artist and the. Answer is definitely, no, I. Didn't. Think I didn't. Think I had any artistic talent growing up anytime. That I would try to make something I couldn't, finish it and, that's particularly, evident in this self-portrait. I just. Kept overworking, the eyes so, much so that my color pencils broke through the paper and I, had to glue paper, behind. It to try starting over again and. I never managed to finish it, my. Last self-portrait. I painted on canvas I got, so frustrated that. I couldn't make what, I saw in my head on the canvas that I actually started crying and, I, reflected, that in that self-portrait, I. Had. A different passion growing up I was, obsessed, with politics I thought. That I would run for Congress one day I'd, spent four summers interning on Capitol Hill I did press for the Obama campaign in 2008, and I, had geared up my whole life for this really particular, track. But. Then one, day I realized, what. If I want to do something other than politics. I didn't, have experience in anything else and I felt incredibly, trapped, it. Was my senior year of college and I decided this, is my opportunity to just. Do something completely different and. I decided at that point that I would become a furniture designer I. Started. Learning how to woodwork, and how to weld and I, had to be enrolled in a sculpture class in order to use the facilities, to make. My furniture designs. It. Was in this class that, I was given a homework assignment, that changed, the course of my life I. Was. Asked, to make, a sculpture about, a landscape. But. It was not allowed to be a sculpture of a landscape. This. Made no sense, it. Still doesn't make sense, and when. I asked a teacher for clarification, he refused he told me I need to just figure it out for myself. The. Idea I came up with was, to put black paint down on the shadows and that, would be a way of describing, the landscape, through, the, obstruction. Of light so, you can have the information about, this tree that's over there through the shadow that's painted directly on the grass. My. Professor hated this idea he, told me that's not what he meant by the assignment and I had to do something else to satisfy it I. Ended. Up making a cardboard house in a cardboard hill and I. Got an A. But. There was something in me that just really wanted to explore and see what, would. Happen if I did try painting on shadows, and. I tried doing all these experiments some, of which involved, taking a human being and putting, the mapping, of light and shadow, directly, on them in grayscale I. Realized. That this was able to do, weird things with the spatial depth cues I thought. Something was wrong with my camera and I. Kept, on trying to take photos from all angles and somehow, my, friend looks like a two-dimensional. Painting no matter what I did I. Went. Back to that same professor, and showed. Him these photos and, I. Was so excited but. His response was, well. If you could have done that in Photoshop, why. Did you bother doing it in real life, that. Looks like he just photoshopped, eyes onto a painting, and. I. Tried, explaining to him that no I think there's something here I really want to explore this and, he's like oh that seems like a very roundabout an elegant solution to, an already solved problem I. Decided. That I would make it my job to try to solve this problem and see what is going on that can make the three-dimensional, space appear, like a two-dimensional, painting I, just. Graduated from Vassar College and, I went back to my, home in Washington DC. And rather than trying to get a job on Capitol, Hill as I've been my plan I decided, to teach myself how to paint through the process of painting on myself or, painting on grapefruit, or painting on a plate of eggs a, lot.
Of My early subjects, were inanimate objects, or myself because. All of my friends had real, jobs. They. Didn't understand, when I told them that I was in my parents basement putting, paint on grapefruits, that I was being completely serious. If. I wanted to paint someone other than me I'd have to find somebody, else who was. Not working a nine-to-five and, so that ended up in one case being a retired gentleman. Now. This. Painting. Was. In. Preparation for an art exhibit that I had in Washington DC I was really excited to be making my debut in a gallery that I would be having a painted person on display, for people to finally see I'd be coming out of my parents basement at. The last minute I wasn't, able to get a ride and I. Didn't, know what to do this. Was the days before Oberon, left and, I decided that I would get to the Art Show no matter what I, ended. Up taking my painted, model on the DC subway. And. I was mortified. People. Were, very confused, and very uncomfortable. And. I felt really bad that I was causing all of these terrible feelings in a lot of humans I was. So embarrassed but, I kept snapping photos and what. Came out of that ended, up being one of the most iconic images, of my entire career. This. Picture launched, me to internet. Virality and all of a sudden overnight, people, knew my art and my work and it, wasn't because of the presentation, in the gallery it, was because of this chance occurrence on the DC subway. Since. Then I've, gotten a lot more comfortable bringing my models out into the real world. So. I mean that's really cool is that when you're working with humans, as your canvas sometimes, very human, things end up happening. This, is real and she has no idea what's going on I. Thought. She was saying no, it's. Like that's so terrifying in the worst way to have your heart broken but it was a yes. And, they're now married and have a baby. Another. Fun project I did was in collaboration with dancers, John bugs and Lola buck for the short film color of reality. Is. My collaboration, with Sheila, Vance a performance, artist, I put. Paint, on her body and then put her in a pool of milk and the, color started, fading and going, into the milk to form these unpredictable patterns.
All Around her we. Weren't able to control what would happen where the colors would go would, be beautiful one moment and then the next all the paint would be washed away I. Did. This body of work with Sheila in 2012, and then. Last, year it caught the attention of a music video director, who, asked me if I could do. This with, a pop star and it turned out that was ariana grande and. I ended up painting her for her. You. So. I knew that ariana was a major, pop star but, I was not prepared at all for what happened next the internet, went totally crazy people. Started, tweeting. Out at lush, saying I want to bathe like a goddess give me purple, bathtub water and they. Answered their prayers and. You can now buy a bomb, at lush to bathe like ariana grande it. Set off a moment, of a worldwide makeup, trend of putting purple, lipstick on your nose and cheeks. It's. Kind of cool because this very, internet, moment turned into something tangible in the real world where people at home we're now recreating. This look, my. Favorite recreation is this one. Hashtag. God is a shrimp bisque a. Lot. Of people wonder how, can, you see my work in person, if it's all just, photos on the internet or videos, and when. I exhibit my work I go. Beyond the traditional gallery. Experience, of having white walls and. Picture. On the wall I actually, create, environments. That people are able to be in and become, part of the painting. For. My show last year on or day drive called immersed in Wonderland I painted. All these different scenes and costumes, that people were able to put on and put. Their own spin on the look, including. Dogs. It. Was really cool to see people enjoying our of all different ages and backgrounds people, who normally would be told don't touch that are now fully, immersed. In it. I'd, say there were a lot of really amazing dogs that came to the exhibit. Yeah. It, was just so, fun to see art in a place that anyone. Could access and. It. Was for them and you could play it in whatever way just. Really spoke to you. Especially. Even, to this dog. As, Paul mentioned I'm, going to be bringing back immersed in Wonderland at this time in New York City it opens, on March 13th. Which. Is very soon considering. That I have a lot of space Hey this. Photo was taken yesterday and this is only one third of the space so. I, got a lot of work ahead of me. Okay, but, back to my main body work painting, on people I, feel. Like there's something really special about capturing. A human in this way and when, I learned about something, called neural style transfer, and that now, you can have an algorithm that can paint your pictures for you I. Fell. A little bit of. This. Pang of oh my gosh like my time has come I've been automated, AI, has made me redundant, and I. Felt. Like, you know I've been told before as an artist the sky is the limit but I'm literally limited, I have to be painting the sky on canvas, whereas, a neural style transfer, can just turn anything, into, a beautiful, painting including, the sky I. Decided. That I wanted to learn about how, the, technology behind it works and I went down a big deep, hole of reading academic papers, about style transfer, and then, clicking back into footnotes and I started reading about. All. Different, ways that, people, before, this technology existed. Were applying artistic, techniques to. Digital. Scenes and. That includes. Non-photorealistic. Rendering. There's. A branch of computer graphics research in the 90s and 2000's, that was really gearing up to try to figure out in the. Absence, of having the ability to make photo, real models. Could. We make artistic models, that you, could then animate, and create. This. Animation. That flowed. Better than a. Photo. Wheel model. One, of the things that I learned about and this research was about the uncanny valley effect, and, that was something that I had. Run into in my career as an artist trying to make things perfect even, on painting on myself I realized, that it looks creepy and, uncomfortable, and. That when I just paint. In a looser more dressed rural style the effects are so much more. When. I'm trying to imitate reality exactly, to. Perfection. I end up with results that are less desirable than, if I'm trying to add my own artistic, interpretation, on top of it and so. I prefer to be painting my subjects, in vibrant, colors or in things far removed from what they would look like in the normal world. While. I was doing this research I, learned about depth, maps and about. How you can communicate in a two-dimensional, image how, far something, recedes, into the background by a gradient, of light. When. I had the opportunity to be artists and residents at Google I got. To collaborate with the team developing. Light-filled, technology.
With. Light field we are able to capture a volume, of the space that. Contains. Information about the direction of all the rays of light in the scene you, can refocus, it after the fact you can also move the vantage point to, novel. Places that the camera didn't originally see and I, was so excited to see what we could do with this. To. Turn on the camera you have to actually turn it on about 50 times and, putting all these buttons and then. You. Take all these images together and you're, able to create a three-dimensional, model of the scene which. We then represented. In a two-dimensional depth map and. Because. We could we made the depth map in rainbow a. Light. Field depth map is called a multi plane image it. Section. Slices, the. Image. Into planes depending. On how far away it is from the camera I then. Took these, planar. I. Then. Took this depth map and painted it directly on, top of the real space that we first captured and, to. Pay homage to computer. Graphics, research I painted the Stanford Bunny. Which was also visited by the Stanford puppy, and. Of. Course since my main work involves painting on people I had to do that too it, was, an incredible team effort getting to collaborate with Google and. While. The painting ended there the work didn't at that point we then captured, the scene again using, light field we, were able to take all of these points, of view of the, 2d, 3d, world, and, reconstruct. It. You. Can see when you push a little too far past it then starts, breaking. Off into these slices if, you, tried moving the camera's view point to somewhere that was not initially, seen, by. The camera you then start getting these. Crazy. Slices. Across plans, and. If. You look at it in VR it's incredible, one. Of my favorite things about it is all the artifacts, and that this is actual, reality. Being turned into artwork. In. Addition to capturing the art with light-filled we were able to use light stage. Which. Is typically, used to capture photo, real. Avatars. Of, subjects. Who go in there in the, case of my work we were capturing something that already looked. Like a, two-dimensional. Drawing but capturing it in 3d. The, creator of the late stage Paul de Becque is right there if you have any questions. We. Were able to take this three-dimensional, avatar which from every angle looks, two-dimensional. And seems, quite, in. Juxtaposition, with what you would expect from a, light, stage. High. Fidelity photo. Real model and we. Were able to put that into an, augmented reality experience. If. You. Go over to the installation, and, bring up your phone you can then see grace reinserted. Into the scene fully painted. We've. Also played with some other AR applications. And that includes, taking. The paintbrush, strokes that I put on the models face and then, making it so it's a mask that anybody could apply to themselves. There. Were some things that we had to figure out in the process like, when we tried putting lighting, effects on it, just got creepy and, really. Part of the fun of my work is that I'm erasing, shy shadow, and shadow, cues, and painting, over specular, highlights, to make things look two-dimensional, so it's kind of funny to see digital lighting, added after the fact, something. Else we ran into was the uncanny valley problem, do. You look at how creepy those eyes are. We. Weren't really sure what the solution, was how do you make it UNCHR, you having this juxtaposition of, painted, and real and we. Decided to address that to just put everyone in sunglasses. There. Were also other issues of, okay, but then what about when. You. Open the mouth and all of a sudden there's tongue and teeth and it's like that, is terrifying. That's, literally the stuff that nightmares are, made of. There are also issues too with being able to see in such fine detail the pores and these, attributes. Of skin when, I'm trying to make the piece feel like a flat two-dimensional painting, and so, we just collapsed. All that and went, with, super. Basic colors. And I. Think that has led to a more effective. View, of it so. I find it really interesting that, I'm using this highest technology that's able to capture the real world in high fidelity and. Represent. It as if you were there but, I'm capturing, something that's three-dimensional. And looks 2d, and presenting. It as if it is two-dimensional. Using, this same technology so. It's been a wonderful collaboration with Google and I want to thank you all so very much thank. You. Okay. Thank You Alexa we actually have some time for questions from the audience if, anybody is interested, we should use the microphones because we are recording this and this will be available to Googlers. Everywhere. How. Do you pick your. Subjects, to paint. It. Used to be in the early days when I wanted, to paint someone I'd have to really big and convince them that this would be worthwhile especially.
Because In the early days it was a really strenuous, activity. To model I would paint all the backgrounds, close there, with the person. Now. I have quite a waiting list and I, have a lot of ideas and a lot of things I want to make and so I. Think. About who. On that list, matches. The image. I have in my head and take, from there have. You ever made art for, a political campaign I. Haven't. Made art for a political campaign before but, my short film collaboration, color of reality, that was about gun violence and, it ended up winning cnn's artist impact award as well as was part of the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom, Award ceremony. Whenever. You were getting into art and like, everything, was starting, to kind of take off like well where some of your, like. Well were some of the artists, that influenced, you to kind of. Extra. Style and make it your own. When. I first started painting I wasn't. Looking at other, paintings. So much for inspiration, I was looking more at sculpture, and installations, that played with space because. From the start I viewed this project is something that occurs in three dimensions, and looking. At techniques, for playing, with perception, so, I was really interested in the art of James Turrell and Robert Irwin as my main inspirations, I see. You work with, a couple music artists. Did. The music have any influence on your pieces and, you know the sound itself, and shaping, kind of the outcome. For. The short, film with the dancers that music, was composed by Wonder, Girl and, Daniel. Remain. The. Dance. Was choreographed to, that so that went hand in hand. With God, as a woman for ariana grande we wanted to have imagery, that felt, very. Evocative. And. That. Is why she is in a, giant, shape that might feel familiar i. Was. Wondering since you started. In a different path and then went into, art. It. Sounds like you also got acquainted, with like 3d modeling, and like all of those, specific. Details. Like specular. Specularity, and, at the field. What. Were you thinking about for, example applying. 3d. To. Your 2d versions but they get a more thick, of the, style of the different, painters, like. Monet. Or, you, know that they do those little dots and with that have you tried that working, i tried. Applying. Many two-dimensional art techniques to their three-dimensional spaces, and, almost. No, matter what. Aesthetic. I'm trying to create i'm still able to make. The illusion work whether, it's to look like a pen and ink drawing or a van, gogh painting or something. More abstract or, cubist i'm able, to use light and shadow cues with, a. Couple. Of other strategies to make the space feel compressed. Into a two-dimensional work of art I really, enjoy your work is. Look at your doing actually doing a real argument. In reality where your argument, the real. Appearance. Of object, and human. So. Calculation, I was, just want one question that have. You tried other, type of tour too to paint your subject, like it brushes the air brushes, or anything like, other. Than paint, brush I primarily. Will use paint, I like. The texture of it with, airbrushing. You. I. Don't. Know it just makes me think of body painting and there's a whole history, of body painting that captures. Things. That I don't really like, including. Objectification. Of women and, I'm. Really interested in, capturing a person in their environment. Or in their clothes or their self-expression, and, that make that are part of them, and that's really hard to do using airbrush, since it's not made for that, I'm, sure you get this question a lot and you kind of loot it to it but is there like a link to your wait list for painting to be, getting, it, you. Can contact. Me and I'll put you on the list. For. All this work are you a one-woman. Show or do you work with a team to help some of these larger spaces, I'm, I have a team that paints, with me and I. Wouldn't be able to be. Creating, such large-scale work on my own so it's really exciting getting, to work, with other artists, to manifest, something big. Very. Good so, with, that I would like to thank our amazing artists, and residents for her amazing talk alexa me thanks so much for coming thank you. You.