Art Works at Work

John Gomez in his law firm conference room
featuring paintings by Stephen Fishwick

Original paintings and sculpture trump motivational posters for inspiration

When John Gomez commissioned six portraits for his new office space, gallery owner Alexander Salazar asked him, “Where is your new office?”

“I don’t have one yet,” the lawyer replied.

In fact, he didn’t move into the Allied Plaza Building in downtown San Diego until well after Stephen Fishwick finished the paintings.

“That showed me the commitment of somebody who really wanted art,” Alexander says.

The paintings hang at both ends of a long boardroom with 17th floor views from a wall of glass. They represent John’s heroes: Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X and famous trial lawyer Gerry Spence.

“Right when you came in, I wanted to have the presence of these great leaders,” John says.

While too many motivational posters hang in offices, savvy — and art-loving — entrepreneurs are surrounding their employees with original art.

“It promotes creativity and positive energy,” John says. “And for clients or defense lawyers [who visit], it conveys an element of sophistication and resources. And I just like looking at it every day.”

Of 15 original artworks at the Gomez Iagmin law firm, 95 percent are by local artists. Alexander curates the artwork, bringing works into the office for trial periods.

“I give Alex a lot of license,” John says. “He knows my taste. He knows what to show me.”

Kevin Kinsella, managing director of Avalon Ventures in La Jolla, started buying art for his home in the mid-1990s.

“As the collection exceeded the wall space, I started bringing them to work, and it just sort of expanded from there,” he says. “I think employees get a certain calmness and inspiration from having around them original art that’s beautiful, and the fact that most of the works are very expensive sets a tone.”

Indeed, the Kinsella Library aura is so akin to that of a museum that the public can reserve tours. When he’s available, Kevin himself will lead a tour. (“People like to talk about their stuff,” he explains.)

“I think art, like wine, needs to be shared,” Kevin says. “And then there’s also a very attractive regulation in the tax code, which is that private museums or libraries that open [to the public] can get a tax abatement.” Avalon occupies 20 percent of the space in what was the Copley Library until Kevin bought the 16,000-square-foot building in 2010, so he gets an 80 percent tax abatement.

The Copley Library housed books and documents important in American history. (Kevin has turned the basement vault into a 9,000-bottle wine cellar.) Now paintings, sculptures and two grand pianos adorn the walls and floors. The candy-apple-red Yamaha Disklavier piano once belonged to Elton John. One room is dedicated to a gallery for Jersey Boys, the multi-award-winning musical Kevin produced that he says has made $1.7 billion and is still playing on Broadway and internationally.

Kevin primarily looks at auctions for works by California plein air artists who painted from 1900 to 1950. “I collect a few contemporary artists if they paint in the same style,” he adds. In his own office are two of his favorite pieces: Apache Moonlight by Kenneth Riley and Snow Pillows by Clyde Aspevig.

Contrasting with traditional paintings are colorful, cast-glass mosaic sculptures by local artist Jean Wells. In the conference room, for example, a William Wendt painting hangs on the wall and oversized Hershey’s Kisses by Wells line up on the table.

Jean Wells’ work also can be found at OliverMcMillan’s offices in downtown San Diego, where Dene Oliver has placed artwork in the lobby, along stairways, in passageways, over the copy machine and in individual offices. The firm designs urban and suburban mixed-use developments; its local projects include lofts in downtown San Diego.

OliverMcMillan’s developments and office incorporate original artwork by favorite artists. “Deborah Brenner is a good example of an artist whose works are found in our offices nationwide and in our buildings,” Dene says.

Over a period of more than 25 years, he has collected hundreds of artworks. In January, he cleared space at OliverMcMillan for an exhibition of Deborah’s work debuting at the firm’s 35th anniversary celebration, attended by more than 500 guests. A portion of proceeds from sales of paintings was dedicated to the Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in San Diego.

Other art on display at Oliver McMillan includes laser light sculptures by Steven Correia and glass vessels by the late Italo Scanga in collaboration with Dale Chihuly.

“Having art in our offices is consistent with our mission statement: making special places happen by integrating livable, artistic and enduring designs while giving back to the world around us,” Dene says. “It goes back to what has worked for centuries: that art has had a big role in creating the great cities of the world — beautiful buildings, beautiful landscaping. Art is what has marked the places that make people feel good.”


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