Alex Proba, the versatile designer, leaves no surfaces untouched

Alex Proba, the versatile designer, leaves no surfaces untouched

When did you know you wanted to be an artist and how has your idea of ​​what it means to be an artist or designer changed during your career?

That’s a long story, but basically, I grew up in a home that focused more on science – my parents are doctors, my brother’s dentist, and art or design wasn’t big on our family at all. So in my head, I was always thinking about becoming a doctor of some sort. I went to Ohio in the 11th grade for an exchange program, and that’s when I realized that design and art can be more than just a hobby.

I got lucky with the family I was staying with, my mom used to be a designer at DKNY and they were great at art and going to museums. Back in Germany, I ended up in dental school as planned. While doing so, I began to question my life choices somehow and secretly applied at the School of Design and Architecture where I did a dual study in Graphic Design and Interior Design. And as soon as I got in, I told my parents and then I just went from there and completed my studies in Germany, then worked in London, Berlin and then New York for architects before I realized architecture was not what I wanted to do.

So I went back to the Graduate School of Furniture and Product Design at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Next, I went into graphic design and branding and worked for design agencies, such as Modern New York before joining Nike’s global brand design studio. My studio was a side business. It wasn’t until 2018 when I decided to choose my personal life and studio as my priority. That’s when I went full time doing my own things.

Close-up detail of colorful rugs designed by Alex Propa and high school girls in Ghana
In collaboration with the Toni Garrn Foundation, Studio Proba has launched the TGFxLittle Proba, a collection of rugs and posters designed by teenage girls in Ghana with 100 per cent of the proceeds going to girls’ education initiatives in Africa. The collection features 27 rug designs made from 100% New Zealand wool and bamboo silk. Courtesy of Propa Studio and The Tony Garn Foundation

It sounds like you get your hands on a little bit of everything and your practice really spans all scales. Can you describe your creative process and how your practice has come to embody so many different approaches to creativity?

Just because I’ve done so many different things in terms of studies from interior architecture, graphic design, branding, as well as product and furniture design, I think I do and care about all of those things plus have a character that gets really bored quickly. I don’t say no to the kinds of projects I’ve never done before.

Like the first time Dropbox asked me to paint a mural for their New York office headquarters, I’ve never painted a mural before or even a lot of drawing. And I said, “I don’t know how to do that, but I’m sure, why not?” So I approach every such project. And I feel, if you can do one thing, you can do the other, or you can at least figure it out. And if it doesn’t, and you fail, it’s not really a bad thing because you learn from failure. Failure is the only way forward.

So having expertise in both spatial and 2D thinking, helps because I can visualize things from small computer graphics to large murals without having to change my work too much. It all starts at the micro-computer level for me as a graphic designer to begin with. Then the actual analog part or the board part or whatever that part is, happens after the digital part.

Swimming pool mural with a modern house and mountains in the background in California.
One of the many murals for the pool, Alex Proba, was completed in Los Angeles. Courtesy Propa Studio.

I feel that in your practice, there is no surface outside the confines of your designs and patterns. Do you have certain types of surfaces or objects that you haven’t worked on yet, but want in the future?

I think even though I don’t have a business plan or something planned in terms of where I want to be every year, I have a whole list of projects that I really want to do at some point in my life. But they are everywhere. I mean, pools were on my bucket list as I wanted to go swimming so badly, I was waiting for this opportunity to happen, and it did, and it was great.

I think one of the big things that I want to do that I always think of is designing, like, almost a Proba house where every surface from the door frame to the doorknob to the window frames or whatever is touched. I’ve worked on playgrounds but not basketball or tennis courts, and that’s on my list, as well as children’s playgrounds or even a dog park.

Digital view of a statue in a body of water at sunset.
Last December, Studio Proba partnered with Avana Projects and Enjoy the Weather in a series of NFTs to raise money for ProjectART, an organization and residency program for underserved artists and K-12 students. Courtesy Propa Studio. Animation of Ariel Balanzon

Last year we included some of your work in a feature in the Dreamscapes movement, where you worked with digital artists to create displays of your products in these imaginative environments. What initially attracted you to this method?

I think there are a lot of things. I think one of the things was simply being a small business with limited space and limited funding like, it was this new kind of photoshoot where you can show what you’ve designed, but also imagine a space that you’ll never be able to rent. A space that doesn’t really exist and puts things into those worlds. And I think that’s how it really started for me, mostly just in a small studio in New York with the question, “Well, how the hell can I still pick up all this stuff?” Especially without knowing if you are going to sell any of these items.

And then there’s the second layer of being like, “Wow. Let’s design spaces like your dream space for this product.” There is something really nice about that. from where Tomorrowland The sculptures I made for Design Miami last year, which look like these weird sculptures, Alice in Wonderland Writing things down, putting work into dream-like spaces, is just the perfect thing. It’s just a fun way to bring your work to life, even though it’s not really real. But you know this real thing exists. So it’s like merging these two worlds.

Photo of a Louis Vuitton window designed by Alex Propa
On August 4, 2021, Studio Proba was selected as one of 200 visionaries who will celebrate Louis Vuitton’s 200th birthday with innovative window displays. Courtesy Propa Studio.

What should readers watch from you in 2022?

I paint a Louis Vuitton mural in the spring, which would be really fun. And then we do two more pools, I hope. I did a small project with Samsung that I think we will continue with. Then what? A couple of galleries, one here in the US and one in Dublin. There is a lot to come.

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