A mechanical engineer by education, Alex Davis had a change of heart when he realised he is not cut out for engineering; he immediately embarked on pursuing his true calling – design.
Alex enrolled in NID Ahmedabad to train in product design. Subsequently, while doing his masters in industrial design at the Domus Academy, he interned with famous designer Stefano Giovannoni, whose influence is extensively reflected in Alex’s early works. On his return to India in 1998, Alex set up his studio, Indi Store in New Delhi.
When the other industrial designers chose to play safe, Alex was keen to break the mould. He is lauded with several awards and honours and his designs are truly a work of art. From his latest Dented Painted series, which is a collection of sculptures inspired by the visual vocabulary of vehicles to his dream project Dili Bagh, all accentuate Alex’s humble attempt to bring art to life.
Design to you is?
A medium of expression, same as art. Design training gives you the ability to dream and articulate ideas rather fluently into products that one wants. These could be utilitarian or just sculptural or a combination of both.
You have worked a lot with steel. Why the fascination and what are the limitations of the material?
I started working with steel as I wanted to take a hardy industrial material and convert it into pieces of art. I love the material and have given it many forms over the years and my fascination with the material continues. The beauty of this material is that it is very contemporary. There is a surreal quality in the white coloured reflection that this material has.
It is a hard material to work with and hence it becomes important to plan and implement with precision.
Can you tell us something about your ‘Dilli Bagh’ project?
‘Dilli’ is the original garden city in its various stages of formation. New Delhi, designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker who come from the background of the ‘garden city design movement’, was conceived as the seat of power in a well laid out garden with its avenues and circles.
Old Delhi was designed by Shahjahan as his capital, seated amidst the garden of paradise with its rigorous format of the Moghul gardens with their water canals and plantations. This city contained some of the most celebrated char baghs and gardens like Mehtab Bagh, Hayat Bakshi Bagh, Tees Hazari Bagh, Begum Bagh, Roshanara Bagh etc. which were hallmarked as some of the world’s best Moghul gardens of its time.
Finding a need for public space installations, I started working on the idea of really enormous iconic trees to flank the 5 gateways into Delhi. These would be live sculptures, as the whole installation will be covered in green creepers and resemble a tree. I view the Ashoka tree as my motif for the installation. This motif has been extensively used in the gardens as well as in miniature paintings. Hence, I call this idea Dilli Bagh.
The overall dimensions of the proposed horticultural installations will be 75 metres tall and 14 metres in diameter, positioned prominently at all the entry points of the National Highway into the capital.
Your favourite product by another designer?
I like the work of many designers, but since you ask, I will name two of my favourites: Ettore Sottsass – I really like the fact that he was never limited by the aspects of function and production techniques to design. He was an artist who used to design to express himself by stretching the limits of design. My other favourite is Tord Boontje, his work has a fairy tale like quality, is poetic and light and romantic. He has a very strong signature style.
Three things you never compromise on while designing?
The idea, the implementation, the execution.
Installation art or product design, what’s your current favourite?
Installation art suits my temperament more. I use design as a medium to create art.
Do you think Indian designers have capitalised on the diverse Indian culture and traditional craft, or is there a lot that is yet to be explored?
Indian culture and traditional craft is perhaps one of the most resourceful inspirations in the whole world. It will be impossible to exhaust that resource at any point. No one designer can actually do it, as the inspirations can never be exhausted. The explorations will continue till the world comes to an end.
With many designers making technology based products, where does that leave the old fashioned aesthetic + functional approach?
Design needs a course correction: it has to be design based technologies and not the other way round since we are already past the industrial revolutions. There is plenty of room for everyone and all kinds of design; it is entirely dependent on what the individual wants to do.
The old craft traditions that have been handed down over centuries need design and technological inputs to provide for the ever changing local and global markets, and that is happening. The aesthetic will be ever changing as new materials, technologies and markets come in.
Do Indian design schools offer enough global exposure to students?
Not enough! In fact the students don’t get enough exposure to the local and national markets even. This is due to constraints of how much they need to learn within the time that they are there. The exposure begins towards the end of their curriculum and has to continue through their careers. What they need to introduce is design management.
I conduct design workshops at NID and have an “open house” approach to creativity. A profession like design, thrives on exposure and collaboration and hence the more, the better.
Can you recount a special student- professor interaction you had?
I worked as a student for a very well known designer Steffano Giovononi and his brief to me was, ‘don’t do anything strange’. That was the hardest thing for me to do and I learnt a lot.
What are you currently working on?
On my latest collection, it’s called Dented Painted.
Any other creative vocation you indulge in?
There is creativity in everything…I dabble in cooking, I love to travel, fishing is a sport that I enjoy and I love gardening and listening to music.