Alex Proba likes figuring things out. “That’s part of the joy I get in my work,” she tells me, saying that the brightly painted swimming pools for which she is well-known were a struggle for her for a long time. As we chat it seems she faces a daunting task—not impossible, but close—in completing a new solo show with the local gallery Stephanie Chefas Projects, while transitioning to a new warehouse-style studio in Portland. “I have been painting through all weekends and nights, but I work better that way, under pressure,” Alex says.
Alex’s new studio is a giant, open space with painting supplies, canvases, bright colors, brushes, and, of course, her dog and “best assistant” Sam. The solo show, Gemstone Groceries, is coming together. Originating from her Design Miami 2021 installation, Tomorrow Land, the idea is to bring sculpture and big, lively, interactive art to the scale of the living room.
With “Tomorrow Land,” people walking, sitting, and climbing on Alex’s work came as a shock, even though she embraced the interactivity in concept. “First what I did is I got cleaning supplies and all that stuff and wanted to start cleaning up,” she laughs. “It was an interesting first few hours, and then I got over it. It was actually really fun to watch, and it makes me really happy that it worked the way we were anticipating.”
Her new space and show embrace this same physical relationship to art. Playing with new color palettes and different setups, making canvases sculptural by manipulating the frames, she hopes her work is “not just a thing that can be viewed but that can be experienced.” It carries the same colorful, vibrant shapes typical of her past works—an extension of the kinetic, amorphous, organic forms of the digital Living Shapes and the largest 14-foot-tall sculptures of Tomorrow Land, shrunk for the home.
Though the timeline is uncertain, next on Alex’s list is to explore playgrounds. There are a lot of exciting playgrounds nowadays, but many more have no soul. “Making them functional, but more artful as objects within the city will be a fun project for me to investigate and look into,” she says. Just as long as she doesn’t bust out the Clorox as soon as she sees sticky, post-snack kids climbing her jungle gym.