Barcelona-based designer and illustrator Alex Foxley creates work infused with the radical spirit of the 1990s. It’s all part of his aim to heal his inner child and bring joy and humour to people around him.
Originally from the UK, Alex is a Norwich University of Arts graduate who studied and pursued photography. However, during his second year, he decided to switch focus and dedicate himself to design and illustration.
“My housemate Phil Whitton was doing some pretty awesome illustrations, and he encouraged me to start posting on Instagram, treating it like a digital sketchbook,” Ale tells Creative Boom. “Before I knew it, I incorporated illustrations into my photography work. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in design and illustration.
“After moving to Barcelona in 2017, I set out to teach myself everything I could about design. Reading blogs, watching YouTube tutorials and going to events helped me get immersed in the design industry and gave me the confidence to apply for graphic design jobs.”
For anyone old, or indeed lucky enough to have lived through the 1990s, there’s a familiar aesthetic to Alex’s work. Loaded with bold colours and an edgy attitude, his designs and illustrations take the best visual elements of arguably the best decade and bring them bang up to date with a digital polish.
Speaking of why the era’s pop culture appeals to him, Alex says: “As a ’90s kid, some of my fondest memories were waking up early and sneaking downstairs to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I was inspired by the illustration style of many of the ’90s Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon shows, such as The Powerpuff Girls and Hey Arnold! I felt there was such a richness in the use of colour and line work.
“I think video games of the ’90s have also heavily influenced me. I remember having a Sega Mega Drive and a Game Boy Color, and I was so drawn into the colourful and imaginative worlds of games like Sonic, Mario and Pokemon. I think there’s a reason why these games have had such a cultural impact and are cherished by many even to this day.”
As well as drawing inspiration from yesteryear, mental health is a recurring theme in Alex’s work. Through his social media channels, he also advocates for discussions about mental health to help people open up and talk through their feelings. It’s all part of ushering in a positive change via his creations.
“I grew up in London as a working-class kid with a difficult upbringing and had always struggled to know my place in the world,” Alex reveals. “There was an immense amount of responsibility and weight on my shoulders from a young age, which forced me to grow up quickly.
“As an adult, these feelings manifested into anxiety and depression, leading to some pretty self-destructive behaviour. Last year, I hit rock bottom and sought help from a therapist, which ultimately changed my life. I healed my wounds and moved forward, living a healthier and more fulfilling life.
“I have always been open about my struggles with mental health, and I think it is so important to create a dialogue around it and let people know that it’s okay to not be okay. I have found that through my art, I can talk about some of these topics in a more approachable manner.”
Nineties nostalgia and mental health work hand-in-hand in Alex’s work. In fact, he pays homage to video games and cartoons because they capture the sense of escapism he felt during his childhood.
“Colour is such a big part of my work, and it has always helped me to reconnect with my inner child and spread a message of love and self-acceptance. In a world that is feeling increasingly hostile and complex, I want to try and at least make my little corner of the internet a place that is fun, optimistic and calls back to simpler times.”
When he’s not breaking down the barriers surrounding conversations about mental health, Alex works as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, having recently made the leap and packed in his regular full-time day job. Now represented by the NYC illustration agency Totally Reps, he’s free to work on what interests him as well as his own personal projects.
Going freelance is equally exciting and terrifying, but fortunately, Alex has some advice if you’re thinking of following in his footsteps. “Firstly, based on my own experience, I’d suggest saving some money before taking the leap! My first few months were incredibly tough as I hadn’t found my flow yet, and the last thing you want to do as a freelancer is stress about how you will pay your rent.
“I’d also recommend getting into the habit of networking. There is so much to be learned and shared within our own community, and it’s really endearing. I’ve been given tips from people who have been freelancing for years, and sometimes they have even put me forward for jobs they can’t do.”
As for what he’s working on right now, Alex wants to bring his work off the screen and place it in the real world. “Having more time for personal work has allowed me to start being more ambitious with personal projects,” he concludes. “An exhibition could be on the cards. Who knows!”