Finding Wonderland

Discovering a Queer Kaleidoscope at ‘Wonderland Dreams’

· Updated on May 15, 2024

Sure, Dorothy rode the tailwinds of a tornado to land in Technicolor Oz, but Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole is a queer-coded fantasy worth revisiting. The hand-painted Wonderland Dreams by Alexa Meade transforms 26,000 square feet into a multi-room interactive gallery showcasing Meade’s groundbreaking two-dimensional painting technique.

INTO dropped by the New York City attraction to watch Meade paint Broadway dancer Kolton Krouse (Bob Fosse’s Dancin’), turning them into a living work of art before our eyes.

Artist Alex Meade painting ‘Wonderland Dreams.’ Photo by Mike Monaghan

Meade grew up in Washington, D.C., where art was the last thing on her mind. An interest in politics steered her toward working on Barak Obama’s 2008’s presidential campaign, and it was until she began experimenting with paint at age 21 that her technique took shape

“I wanted to see what it would look like to put paint on shadows, and I experimented putting shadows on live paintings,” Meade tells INTO. “And I realized I could make the world look like a two-dimensional painting.”

Kolton Krouse (left) is painted by Alexa Meade in ‘Wonderland Dreams.’ Photo by Mike Monaghan

“I’m self-taught as a painter,” says Meade. “Developing this technique was really a process of trial and error. The main idea was painting on people, but then I would create these elaborate background sets for my ‘human paintings.’ And I thought, why don’t I do a show that’s all about the painted backgrounds — environments and costumes — and that’s how Wonderland Dreams came about.”

Elijah Central in ‘Wonderland Dreams.’ Photo by Elizabeth Acevedo

In a world where diversity is being challenged, Meade wanted to “create a space for expression and joy,” literally creating an environment that promotes inclusivity. “Normally, you look at a painting on a wall and you are far removed from it. But here, you get to put on these painted costumes and really be inside of the art. And you’ll notice that rainbows are a huge theme throughout the space.”

Pop art and impressionist rainbows reflect the Pride flag’s 45-year legacy, first created by Gilbert Baker and other activists. “D.C. is quite a buttoned-up city, and so embracing my rainbow side is something that required me leaving to be able to find myself. My life as an artist is definitely more colorful. I moved to Los Angeles, where my home is a rainbow funhouse.”

A Mad Hatter’s tea party in ‘Wonderland Dreams.’ Photo by Phoebe Smolan

Published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland captivated readers not only for the author’s descriptive text but also for Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations. Meade reimagines the world down the rabbit hole through various experiential touchpoints that play with perspective and harken back to key moments in the story, such as the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

“It’s definitely a character-rich space,” says Meade, “where you can walk into another world and be anybody you want to be and also feel comfortable being yourself.”

Kolton Krouse is being painted at ‘Wonderland Dreams.” Photo by Mike Monaghan

While being painted, Krouse shared how dance and art are intrinsically connected:

“I’ve always imagined that as a dancer, my body paints a space similar to how an artist paints a canvas. And being here — actually being the canvas is wild.”

Kolton Krouse at ‘Wonderland Dreams.’ Photo by Mike Monaghan

While dance is a three-dimensional art form, Krouse sees a connection between their art form and the artist’s palette.

“I think about different colors when I’m dancing,” says Krouse. “It depends on the music, but everyone’s going to see a different color pop out.”

Meade and her team of artists used 20,000 gallons of paint to create Wonderland Dreams. The installation offers visitors the opportunity to not just view art but embody it.♦

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