Among the world’s most prolific, versatile and progressive designers today, Arik Levy is an established name in ground-breaking expression, at the very vanguard of contemporary design practice, who believes that “creation is an uncontrolled muscle”.

Making things ever since he can remember, he was first encouraged to invent objects by his grandfather, who owned a consumer electronics store. 

Arik Levy photographed by Daniele de Carolis

Born in 1963, Arik recalls, “Tel Aviv is a magical place because I grew up there, with lots of friends, the sea and surfing. I started painting when I was 14 and sculpting a little later. But it is charged with so much energy because it’s a country in a state of war and a terrorist attack every other week, so it’s about survival.”

“In art and design, it’s from one day to the next, so you can’t really plan. I go with the flow.”

However, he judges that when one is in a constant state of struggle, one needs to be able to reinvent oneself and rebound. “There are no downs, only ups; no flaws, only advantages; no problems, only solutions,” he states. “In art and design, it’s from one day to the next, so you can’t really plan. I go with the flow.” This ability to overcome obstacles has allowed him the flexibility to cross design boundaries, push the limits and assimilate different cultural influences.

World Influences

Originally running a graphic design and art studio and surf shop in Tel Aviv where he custom-painted surfboards, Arik relocated to Switzerland in 1988. After graduating in industrial design from Art Center Europe in 1991, he did a four-month stint in Japan upon the invitation of Seiko Epson after winning a design competition.

It was an immersive experience that exposed him to the duality of the local culture, caught between a reverence for the past and a forward-looking approach embracing technological advancement. 

Split Chairs and Bloom Table for furniture brand Ton

“Japan was a very important period for me,” he says. “The relationship between people and nature, the admiration of beauty, the appreciation of details, crafts or the way things are done, the practice of 2,000 years of tradition every day. It’s not history; it’s every day.”

“They manage to maintain all their traditions because of their obsessiveness. For me, coming from Israel, which is eclectic and full of energy, to a place that’s so relaxed, where you go to a mountain on a specific date because there’s one flower that is flowering, there’s beauty in it.”

After arriving in Paris strapped for cash, Arik found some discarded cardboard that he transformed into furniture for his apartment, which his friend subsequently purchased.

Bubble Candleholders.

Then he began crafting hundreds of lamps out of stitched paper that he sold through Sentou gallery to supplement his income from his teaching job at a design school. 

His breakthrough came in 1996 when Jacqueline Frydman organised his first solo exhibition of light sculptures and objects at Passage de Retz, which was met with critical acclaim.

A year later, together with his friend and associate, Pippo Lionni, they founded the creative agency, Ldesign. His clients have included Baccarat, Atelier Swarovski, Lalique, Cassina, Zanotta, Molteni, Vitra, Magis, Gaia & Gino, Ligne Roset, Issey Miyake, Lanvin and Hennessy. 

Fantome pendant light for Baccarat.

Evolving Philosophy

Removing everyday objects from their usual context, Arik challenges preconceived notions of how they should look and function and encourages users to form new relationships with them. Today, Arik is based in Provence and has reduced his design output.

His philosophy is “not to produce design but to do good projects. I am a problem solver and innovator of ideas and thoughts. I’m not interested in drawing patterns because I’m not a decorator, but if you want to invent something, then we can do it. I’m more attracted to a holistic approach than another table or chair, which is very important, but I think young designers should do that.” 

“I am a problem solver and innovator of ideas and thoughts. I’m not interested in drawing patterns because I’m not a decorator, but if you want to invent something, then we can do it.”

That’s how he came to work with Spanish surface coverings company Compac over the past eight years on the Genesis collection, conceiving an innovative composite of technological quartz and bonding resin, which has the appearance of raw, natural quartz but is actually a man-made material with enhanced resilience, strength and non-porous qualities. 

The Voyage bathroom fixture collection designed in collaboration with Design Studio Vitra.

Another meaningful long-term collaboration has been with French brand Forestier on numerous lamp collections.

“The impact of design is not: Is it beautiful? Is it red? Is it fun?” Arik notes. “This is all marketing. We cannot neglect that any action we take has an impact. I designed a whole collection in metal wire that saved a village in the Philippines, and the factory workers’ kids are still going to school. I’m very proud of this.” 

“The impact of design is not: Is it beautiful? Is it red? Is it fun?”

Ultimately, his creations all share a commonality: humanity is the focal point. He says, “My work is about people, and so is the world. Connecting to people in a very direct way, expressing my ideas and reflections, is like opening a direct communication channel.” 

Arik designed the watchbands of Samsung Gear S3

A Higher Purpose

Outside of his design work, Levy has always pursued an artistic career, regularly participating in art exhibitions worldwide, presenting sculptures, paintings, works on paper and photographs. “Design has given something very important to my art, which is money and the means,” he admits.

“Because it’s easier to make money in design than in art. Instead of working in a bar or painting houses to make money as an artist, design was a great fusion because I enjoyed it, knew how to do it, and could use my imagination.”

Some of Arik’s scuptures.

“I came up with unusual pieces, and many became classics. And that gave me the freedom to continue what I loved doing. So I made a living through design and invested all of it into art because, unlike paintings, sculpture is very demanding. You need trucks, crates, storage space, expensive materials and manpower.”

While art and design are equally important to Arik, the former is “more personal, more intimate. It’s the best therapy. Very few people have two true careers in art and design. I wake up every morning and do both. It’s a great experience – one enriches the other.”

The ultra-exclusive Paradis Imperial decanter designed for Cognac brand Hennessy.

His artistic creation, metaphors of rocks, logs and natural themes, is no less rigorous than his design process. It investigates the subject of man-made nature by exploring the encounter between humans and mother earth, a rich source of inspiration for him.

Created by taking elements away through a process of subtraction, his signature mirror-polished stainless steel Rock series reflects its surroundings but also leaves parts out, giving a fragmented vision of reality. 

The Rock Crater bracelet designed for Atelier Swarovski.

Arik explains the differences between design and art, “Design has to solve problems. Art is very different; it has no brief. Then again, practising both, I can see a relationship. Functional art exists as well. I conceive design in an artistic way. That does not make it art, but what I call industrial art. But when I paint, I do not design at all. When I make a sculpture, it’s not a chair.”

“Design has to solve problems. Art is very different; it has no brief. Then again, practising both, I can see a relationship. Functional art exists as well. I conceive design in an artistic way. That does not make it art, but what I call industrial art. But when I paint, I do not design at all.

“It’s easier for an artist to make a functional object. It’s very difficult for a designer to make an abstraction because his mental approach is function. In both cases, what is important for me is not the finality – it’s not the object you’re looking at or sitting on – it’s how it makes you feel, think and be. I’m just an inseminator: I plant the seed, and then people make the seed grow.” 

Mistic Candleholder in silver.

Next up in November is Levy’s joint exhibition, Unseen Thoughts, at Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva, together with his French wife, Zoe Ouvrier, also an artist, who engraves enchanted forests on wood in the form of screens and wall panels, which will juxtapose the pair’s individual works with the museum’s permanent collection.

The largest in the world in private hands, the collection houses several thousand pieces from tribal and classical antiquity, as well as sculptures, fabrics and ornaments from Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas. 

“In many ways, my work is very totemic, like what tribes used to have in the middle of the village.”

“It’s such a fantastic juxtaposition between what we do and the collection,” Arik says. “Developing a dialogue is really interesting because, in many ways, my work is very totemic, like what tribes used to have in the middle of the village.

Everybody looked at the totem as the connection with their so-called god. The reflection of the tribal masks in my forms will also be a great visual, as well as Zoe’s wood engravings like how masks are sculpted, so there are a lot of parallels.”

ARIK LEVY STUDIO & SCULPTURE PARK

Last May, Arik and Zoe opened the doors, by appointment only, to their 12,000-sq-m Provencal estate in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a hilltop village long favoured by artists.

Moving from Paris in 2019, the couple instantly fell in love with the Southern France property’s charm, creative energy and vibe. They transformed what was previously the residence of celebrated French ballerina Sylvie Guillem into a light-filled studio and open-air gallery inside a park.

Today, Arik’s large-scale sculptures in stainless steel, Corten steel, bronze, marble and wood come alive amidst 500 olive, cypress, fig, pomegranate, avocado, mandarin and apple trees growing in the lush garden built some 25 years ago by renowned French landscape architect, Jean Mus.

Arik photographed with one of the sculptures in his sculpture park.

The house and studio are home not only to the couple’s creations but also to works by other artists, as they wish to share a diversity of ideas with visitors, with the goal eventually to invite visual artists, writers, musicians and other talents to create on-site. 

Photography courtesy of Arik Levy.