Alex Proba’s Dog Knows How to Show Off For the Camera
The abstract artist on how her rescue pup, Sam, photobombed a video project and inspired a brand-new line of dog products.
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It’s not hard to recognize an Alex Proba creation. Her signature mix of sensuously twisting and interwoven petal forms, squiggles, and splotches featured on household items including rugs, furniture, posters, candles, pillows, blankets — and now, dog products — add a welcoming touch to even the dullest of rooms. And, no matter which of her works you own, it certainly doesn’t risk banality or lack of invention. Her “dream” swimming pools, equally imaginative murals, and her eye-catching art installation in Miami in late 2021 are all facets of her constantly expanding repertoire.
Like most ventures, Proba’s started small. In 2013, the designer launched her namesake brands, StudioProba and ProbaHome, with the 30-minutes-or-less graphic challenge, “A Poster A Day.” Soon, the passion project became a springboard for mural installations for high-profile clients, including Dropbox, Rag and Bone, and Sweetgreen.
Proba has also collaborated with Bower on a trisected cylindrical fountain and with Nortstudio on a collection of tables featuring her artwork. Today, she launched ProbaPaws, a collection of beds and accessories for your pet, all designed with her elegantly akimbo sensibility. Proba, who lives in Portland, Oregan, with her partner and German Shepherd mix, Sam, tells The Wildest about her how Sam influences her art, was the inspiration for her new dog product line, ProbaPaws.
How did you make the transition from a fairly straightforward corporate design track to StudioProba?
I think a multidisciplinary bent is in my personality. I started StudioProba as way to explore my own ideas as a designer, and it took on a life of its own with a commission for Dropbox and a furniture collaboration with Bower. I’ve always been able to move between 2D and 3D, from a tiny computer image to a wall or the surface of a three-dimensional object. I like juggling different projects. Everything for me is a big puddle that contains everything.
Your palette and forms are so distinctive. I initially thought of Memphis Group and its emphasis on quirky, almost cartoonish silhouettes. What are some of your references?
People see whatever they want in my work, which I think is the power of abstract art. But I’m personally not inspired by any specific movement or time period — although I’d probably compare my aesthetic more to that of Matisse than Memphis, in that I’m drawn to organic forms rather than geometric, rigid shapes.
I try not to be very inspired by trends. I’m inspired by the outdoors and by my childhood. My grandmother was a florist. She came to Germany from Poland when I was two because my parents had asylum there during the political turmoil of the 1980s. She had to close her floral shop at the age of 40, which is crazy to think about. But she still loved flowers, so I spent my free time with her in our garden. A lot of my patterns and even pairings of colors— like bright pops of color set off by muted ones — come from memories of that time. Now, if I notice a cool texture on a walk with my pup Sam, I take a photo for reference — it’s a constant process of abstracting the everyday.
Do you get to do a lot of walks with Sam?
Yes, his litter was found in a box in Houston, Texas but he’s water dog. And he likes the snow too, so we do hikes on the coast and in the snow in the winter. We live in Forest Park, Portland, which is a state park and has a million hiking routes. I lived in New York for 12 years, and comparatively, Portland’s not my favorite “city” city, but I like all of the nature in the outskirts.
Is Sam a studio dog?
Yeah, he goes with me to the studio. When I was doing the video for Samsung [a collaboration for the company’s limited-edition bespoke refrigerator line], he came up behind me and pantomimed as if he knew he needed to act “involved” for the camera.
As a designer, do you have an opinion on dog kerchiefs? Yay or nay?
I’m actually launching ProbaPaws, and I’m doing [an additional] line of bandanas that aren’t triangular. I think always having them triangular is a missed opportunity.
I like how you look at regular objects from a sculptural perspective rather than accepting the norms of what makes a table (or a neckerchief!).
There’s never a perfectly flat plane in my work. It’s always slightly off, which gives it character. I like creating unexpected moments, like when you touch something that looks hard, but it’s soft.
How do you bring about these unexpected moments?
I pick projects that I don’t know how to do, because challenges lead me to new ideas. I always wanted to do swimming pools, so I made 3D renderings of “dream pools” until one client actually wanted one! And I was like, “Oh shit, I don’t know what paint to use; I don’t even know if it’s possible.” It took a long time to figure out because the paint formulated for pools only exists in variations of blue, white, red, and black, so I had to experiment and improvise. But then when it was finished it was so amazing because I could see my painting in [a] physical space at various times of day. And when you fill this dimensional painting with water, it changes again with the reflection of the blue sky.
I personally love projects that bring me to places that stretch me. Being out there in the world and meeting people who live where these works live — I always hire local artists to help me produce my murals — rather than solely in your studio, it connects you with people. I’m able to take risks precisely because it’s not lives I’m playing with, it’s just paint. I can always go back and change it.
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Cat Kron is a writer and editor covering art and culture for publications including Artforum, Art Review, Cultured, and Contemporary Art Review LA. She has a novelty sweatshirt with an Edward Gorey illustration of a tuxedo cat lying on books and the caption “books. cats. life is good,” as well as her own tuxedo named Batty, whom she shares with her husband.