From Litigation to Inspiration: John Quinn's Artistic Journey and Fostering Creativity in a Residency Programme

As interviewed by our LTArt Head of Marketing, Aurelia Clavien. 

2 February, 2024

Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with John Quinn, one of the world’s top trial lawyers and the founder of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, which The Wall Street Journal called a ‘global litigation powerhouse’. While we could have dedicated the entire interview and more to his phenomenal career so far, I wanted to dive deeper into the firm’s Artists-In-Residence programme, set up by Quinn and curated by Director of Art and Outreach, Alexis Hyde. The programme offers emerging and/or under-represented artists a four-month studio residency at the firm’s offices, alongside a stipend and materials allowance. In this interview, I was delighted to not only discover more about the residency programme but also Quinn’s passion for art and his own creations. 

How did the idea for the Artists-in-Residence programme come about? 

I think I’ve always had a passion for art, especially contemporary, visual art. The idea for the programme came about during the pandemic. At the start of it, when I was sitting at our office in downtown Los Angeles, where we have six floors, there was no one there and all the empty rooms seemed like a waste of space. I can’t remember exactly what sparked the idea, but I thought it would be great to offer some of the space up to artists and have them working here in our offices. That’s how it started.

What is the programme’s main mission?

It’s hard to pinpoint a main mission. It accomplishes a number of things. A mission would definitely be to provide artists with a space to create.I hadn’t realised how many people there are out in the world who have a need to make art, but don’t have the space and resources to do it. That was a revelation to me. When we first advertised it in LA, we received around 75-90 portfolio submissions, which was astonishing to me. Our most recent one in LA, which must be our fourth or fifth series, received 400 submissions! It just keeps on growing. So, providing them with a space and the supplies they need to freely create their art is definitely a key mission. With the cost of living crisis and other factors, it has perhaps become harder for these artists to rent studio space and purchase all the supplies they need to freely create their art. We’re able to offer them a solution to these barriers. 

Another mission would be to provide artists with a platform to further promote their work. At the end of each residence, we organise a month-long exhibition to showcase the works created. So, we hope to give them some exposure and the ability to sell some of their art. The firm also acquires a piece from each artist and we facilitate sales with other partners and associates at the firm. Some have done really well and been picked up by reputable galleries. In fact, one of our previous artists-in-residence, Edgar Ramirez, went on to have a solo booth at Frieze LA 2021 the following year. He was featured in Frieze media and won an acquisition award from the City of Santa Monica. We were thrilled to see the positive reception his works received. 

Also, I’d add that it’s simply fun and educational to have artists working in the office. We get to understand what they’re interested in and how they execute their works. I enjoy the whole process of being around them and talking to them about their ideas and what inspires them. It gives our office something unique and we get to see the world through the lens of various artists, which is always insightful. 

Are there any artists you have found particularly memorable since you launched the programme?

Yes, there are a few. One of our first artists was Molly Segal, who created dystopian paintings of mostly industrial, abandoned areas along the strands in LA using watercolour. The landscapes are very recognisable if you’re familiar with LA, but for me, it’s the unusual combination of pastels, watercolour and sombre subject matter that makes her works truly remarkable. Another artist is Francisco Palomares, who painted portraits of people he saw on the street. It was particularly interesting because these were faces that were familiar to many of us at the office, including that of the flower seller downstairs. It made it more personal and almost like he brought those people into our office. He has since been included in numerous institutional shows and was recently selected for a plein air art residency through the Long Beach Museum of Art. Finally, I’ll mention Edgar Ramirez again, as his paintings are really quite atypical. He gets his inspiration from street signs, painting them in various colours on cardboard mixed with shellac. They made strong, visually appealing statements. Overall, we’ve been fortunate enough to have many interesting artists with different interesting perspectives and techniques. 

How have clients responded to the programme?

Clients and Partners have been incredibly supportive of the programme. They find it to be innovative and forward-thinking, and the direct patronage of the arts adds an unexpected aspect to the firm that has been very well-received.

At London Trade Art, we have written about art's impact on wellbeing, having dedicated several magazine articles and even a webinar to the topic. What changes, if any, have you noticed in employee productivity and wellbeing since installing the residence programme?

I find it quite hard to connect wellbeing and art. I’m sure it has some effect and I would say most of our employees have found the programme interesting. However, I think it’s quite hard to quantify the effect it may have had on their wellbeing or overall productivity. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it has helped to bring more people back into the office, but it does give us something extra. 

The programme currently takes place in New York, LA and London. However, you have offices in many locations around the globe, including in Asia and Australia. Are there any plans to expand the residence programme to other locations in the near future?

Due to our success in LA, we were actually approached by the New York office asking if they could start their own programme there; then, London followed. This was really done organically. There was never a concrete plan or ambition to extend it beyond LA. If another one of our offices were to express the desire to set it up in their city, then we would naturally help to make that happen. 

Do you collect art yourself? If so, do you have a favourite piece in your collection?

Yes, I do collect art. I’m honoured to be able to buy a piece from each artist participating in our residence programme at each pop-up exhibition. It means a lot to me to be able to live with art and see it every day. In general, I tend to gravitate towards contemporary, figurative art. I like seeing colour, people and words incorporated in artworks. One of my favourite pieces in my collection is a watercolour depicting a couple wearing masks and kissing with a scene of chaos and fire in the background. It was painted by Conrad Ruiz, who based it on a photograph that had appeared in a newspaper following riots in Santiago, Chile. Due to the masks, it seems to take on a new meaning post-Covid. People immediately think it’s COVID-related, but it’s not. It tells a different story. I find it very interesting.

Conrad Ruiz, ‘Summer’, 2020

Do you have any other art-related projects planned within the firm?

Well, it’s not within the firm, but I used to have my own museum on Hollywood Boulevard, called the Museum of Broken Relationships, for a while. People could donate things that they had hung onto from a relationship that had ended and write a story about them. It was kind of a conceptual art museum. I’m not sure the location was ideal for it and the space was costly, so at one point, I got tired of doing it and closed it down, putting everything in storage. But, I’m now thinking of re-opening it somewhere. 

‘Cologne Bottles’, from the Museum of Broken Relationships, photo credit: Matt Weir

I heard that you’ve created some works yourself. Can you tell me about a few of them?

As I mentioned, I like the combination of art and words, such as with works by Edward Ruscha. One time, I travelled to St. Barths, in the Caribbean, and was invited for dinner at Larry Gagosian’s house. Afterwards, I was talking to someone and found myself uttering what sounded like an improbable sentence to me: “I was in St Barths and I was talking to Larry”. So, I made a Ruscha-type artwork out of it. 

‘I was in St. Barths’, 2019

I also worked with a firm that partners with Hollywood studios to create a highly detailed diorama of a conference room, which trial lawyers also refer to as ‘war rooms’. We often spend hours prepping trials in these conference rooms, where the atmosphere can often feel suppressive and claustrophobic. I wanted to communicate this and depict a frantic scene with a Salvador Dali-like clock stuck at 2 am and all the miniature details of the items you’d expect to find: water bottles, coffee cups, files, laptops, ties strung over office chairs, etc. On the tiny whiteboard, there are also lines from Moby Dick and Through the Looking Glass. It was a neat project to conceive and see brought to life. 

John Quinn, ‘WAR ROOM’, 2018

 Finally, another one of my works, inspired by Damien Hirst, was a gold medicine cabinet featuring oversized pills with messages or icons on them, such as the Batman symbol or a dollar sign. The suggestion is that these pills can do different things, like magic pills. I called it ‘17 Time Zones’ because, between LA and Korea, there are 17 time zones. I go to Korea a lot and also collect contemporary Korean art, hence why I chose those destinations. Funnily enough, someone once asked me why I chose 17 time zones and whether it had anything to do with there being 17 trays. I hadn’t even thought about it, but sure enough, there were 17 trays. My unconscious mind must have been working overtime!

John Quinn, ‘17 Time Zones’, 2018

To learn more about the Quinn Emanuel Artists-in-Residence programme, click here.

Aurelia Clavien

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