Saucy and Restrained
The grandson of a noted printer, Spanish-born, NYC-based graphic designer Alex Trochut forged his own path in the field of graphic design, with little knowledge of his family pedigree. Instead, he largely relied on his own instincts and interests, a formula that has today made him sought after by the world’s largest brands. Successful in several creative fields, Trochut balks at the idea that he is an artist. That title is a sacred cow reserved for those who are committed to self-expression, he believes, and he’s little more than an actor interpreting his clients’ scripts.
Alex Trochut is the adventurous sort. It’s not so much that he’s likely to take off to Nepal to climb Mount Everest on a whim, but that he’s one of those rare human creatures who finds comfort, even pleasure, in delving into the unknown.
Small case in point: We’re in a bar across from his studio in Brooklyn, NY, scanning a list of beers, few of which we have ever heard of. It’s the very reason why he’s brought me here.
“There are a bunch of places like this around New York now,” he tells me. “They’re great because you never know what you’ll find. There’s always something new to try.”
He applies this same mindset on a larger scale to his practice as a graphic designer.
“The techniques I use really depend. I like to get lost in every project,” he tells me.
“There’s something about learning something new each time I start anew, rather than doing the same thing over and over. I could master something and do it again and again, but my drive will just decrease by repeating this process. Uncertainty brings excitement to the process, and that feeling is carried in the result,” he says.
That process is one that can vary greatly from project to project, and it relies on intuition as much as it does on a refined skillset and fixed parameters.
When he starts with a variety of references, he does not push forward until he feels comfortable that what he’s creating is uniquely his own. This process can comprise a variety of techniques, from illustration to lettering and so on, which is why Trochut’s output is difficult to pigeonhole and his strengths hard to define.
“I like the term visual craftsman because in the end what you’re doing is crafting something visually,” he says. “I don’t go very deep into any specific subject. Like I’m not very good at typography. I’m not good with alphabets. I prefer lettering,” he tells me.
What he is good at is pleasing his clients, which has made the 37-year-old a hot commodity in the graphic design world, with some of the world’s biggest brands and artists having employed his creative services. In the past few years alone, he’s worked for the likes of McDonald’s and Nike and has designed eye-popping album covers for the Rolling Stones and Katy Perry.
Trochut is consistent in that he is non-committal about his style, which occupies, as he puts it, “a sweet spot between geometric and organic, legible and abstract, saucy and restrained.”
As easily influenced by 1960s graphic designer Rick Griffin as he is by kinetic artists such as the Venezuelan Carlos Cruz-Diez and contemporary art world stars Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, it’s a style that’s not gone unnoticed by his peers. In 2017 and 2018, the Global Association for Creative Advertising and Design (D&AD) bestowed upon him the prestigious “Wood Pencil” award, and in 2015, he was even a Grammy nominee thanks to the artwork he created for the rock band Alagoas’s self-titled album.
Trochut’s current success is, in a way, a matter of destiny. Born in 1981 in Barcelona, he entered the world just a year after his grandfather, himself a noted printer, passed away.
Inspired by Bauhaus, Joan Trochut made his name from a 250-piece modular alphabet that he developed at the tender age of 22. Having taken over his father’s printing press during the mid-20th century, he eventually fell on hard times because of his inability to keep up with technological advances.
This led Alex’s own father to shield him from the field of graphic design, instead nudging him towards a life in the business world. Alex was having none of it. Influenced by the album covers and skateboard graphics that were ubiquitous during his childhood, Trochut was persuaded to have a go at graphic design.
“When I told my father I wanted to be a graphic designer, he wasn’t happy about it,” Trochut laughingly recalls. “But in a way, I guess I was supposed to do it.”
It wasn’t until he studied at Barcelona’s design school Elisava that he came to understand the influence his grandfather had, not only on him but on the Spanish design community as a whole.
“My teachers recognised my surname and asked if I was related to Joan Trochut, and when I said yes, they said, ‘well dude, the bar is very high.’”
At first, Trochut balked at the pressures placed on him, but eventually, he found his own voice, albeit one that continues to be influenced by his grandfather to this day.
“The idea that he used the typographic medium as a puzzle of shapes that can come together as blocks, like a Lego, it really helped me to understand typography as a very flexible matter,” Trochut says of what he’s learned from his grandfather’s work. “The way that he dissected letters, allowing him to use them equally for illustration or typography, made me look at shapes as abstract forms detached from meanings, that could then function with many purposes.”
After Elisava, Trochut worked in Berlin and Barcelona before becoming a full time freelancer in 2007. By 2011, he had grown restless and decided to travel for six months before ending up in New York. His arrival mirrored that of many self-fashioned outsiders who have come to the city from far and wide in search of spiritual refuge.
“In Barcelona, I felt the weight of my own past. New York allowed me to reinvent myself in the way I wanted to be,” he tells me.
Making the transition easier were his already established friendships in the city. He immediately reconnected with one of those friends, Laura Alejo, an illustrator from Barcelona, and the two were able to find a work space together. It now houses four other creative professionals and is, as Trochut describes it, “like a little family.”
In addition to his client work, Trochut made minor waves in the art world in 2013 and 2014 with his self-funded project Binary Arts. It is a printing technique he patented, which allows you to print two completely different images on the same surface—one visible in light and the other in the dark. Trochut took portraits of musicians whom he admired, such as the LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy and Spanish DJ John Talabot, printed them with his patented technique, and exhibited the final product at galleries in New York, Paris, Barcelona, and Milan.
While most would revel in the artistic affirmation provided by exhibiting in such cultural hotspots, Trochut scoffs at the very idea that he is somehow an artist.
“Ultimately, whatever I’m working on is an attempt to attract clients, to create a personality I can use for my brand,” he says, while adding, “I do commercial stuff and that means I’m going to do an act of empathy for someone else. I’m trying to communicate a need that comes from outside rather than inside myself.”
Besides, he adds, “An artist must be 100% committed to his own self-expression and I am not able to do that right now.”
That’s because the New York market is cutthroat, even for a star such as Trochut. “Every day, you have to prove yourself in New York. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday. It’s about what you can do for someone today,” he admits. But of course, skill and talent tell only part of the story. Trochut’s ability to adapt to the times, and more specifically, to the technological changes that his field is subject to, has been one of his greatest assets.
“Without [technological know-how] I would be useless. Very little of what I studied ten years ago can be applied today,” he admits. When he speaks about the role that technology, and especially social media, has in the culture at large, he becomes introspective, even a bit sullen.
“It’s caused this overwhelming presence of the world. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. That is so unnatural for a human and we could never be happy like this. But we’ve somehow created this thing…” he says before trailing off. Despite his reservations, he uses Instagram daily. He’s amassed a considerable following and posts often in an effort to interact with the platform and attract new clients. Still, he’s conscious of its pitfalls.
“Sometimes you play to what you think your audience will like as opposed to what is your authentic self,” he says. Trochut is nothing if not pragmatic, and his career is marked by his ability to find a compromise between his own instincts and the demands of the market.
“Sometimes, getting a job really just depends on the amount of followers you have and not necessarily the quality of the product you can provide,” he says ruefully.
Alex Trochut has clearly found a measure of peace in New York. Now married to a girl from Nashville, he remains focused on the present and confident that the future will allow him to explore new creative channels—a belief backed up by a recent experience of his.
“A psychic told me that at the age of 50 my career will go in that direction,” he says, laughing. But then, Trochut is pretty levelheaded about it all. Supremely talented and having experienced an enviable amount of professional success already, he remains grounded in the knowledge that much of life is out of one’s control.
“I’ve always wondered how great artists from the past would fare today. Like would Picasso have been even greater than he was, created something even more magnificent, or would he have been an unknown, drowned out by all the noise we are now surrounded by?”