Fine Arts Flourish at IA

Relish Works, Merchandise Mart, Chicago. This was a freelance project drawn and painted by Chad Finken.

Is architecture a fine art? Since the days of ancient Greece that’s been debated. But not surprisingly—because it’s hard to limit creativity—many IA architects and designers are fine artists. Parallel to a professional career they pursue an art form for pure pleasure or even ply their talent for profit or non-profits. Among the many fine artists at IA, we’ve asked a few to share their thoughts and a sampling of their work in what will probably be the first of similar future posts.

Chicago Experiential Graphic Design Director Chad Finken

Passionate about art at an early age, Chad Finken focused on animation, film, and video at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where curiosity led him to printmaking and digital art, although his love of painting and drawing never wavered. Moving from the digital world to the realm of experiential design for the built environment was a natural segue. And professional experience with global brands led to video projects, illustration, and signage & wayfinding, as well as project management.

Given the chance to incorporate an illustrative style or three dimensional piece into a project is right on point for Chad, and mural painting is a specialty. Unwilling to completely detach from the handmade is one of the reasons he spends time painting a series of small-scale acrylic portraits of friends and family that keep him inspired.

Small-format portraits of friends and family are a personal project.

One of many sketches for a trip around the world themed mural, a 100 percent pro bono project completed with friends/colleagues for a non-profit.

A compelling wall painting for a gym in Chicago’s West Loop was another freelance project.

Los Angeles Technical Director and Architect Frank Limahelu

As a teenager, blues guitarist, painter, or architect were equally captivating career options for Frank Limahelu. Though he chose architecture, painting was never far away and we suspect the guitar is still around. A self–taught painter off and on over the years, Limahelu focused on watercolors while practicing architecture. In 2015 he started to paint in earnest primarily with acrylics on large canvases, his subjects ranging from every-day events to family and his experience as an immigrant.

This year Frank participated in Art Swagger, his first exhibit. Begun in 2011, the event brings together the downtown Los Angeles architecture and design community through art and charity. Design firms open their studios for the evening to showcase participants’ works in a variety of mediums, with attendees moving from studio to studio, imbibing adult refreshments and hors d’oeuvres at the closing party. After the event, but as a result, Frank was gratified to sell a painting. Sweet!

Noho, CA Farmers Market. 48 x 48 x 1.5 inches.

Yoga. 72 x 72 x 1.5 inches.

Three Chairs in San Clemente. 48 x 48 x 1.5 inches.

Family Portrait. 48 x 60 x 1.5 inches.

Chicago Job Captain Ruben Gonzales

“I think I’ve always been obsessed with the little details, how a subtle change in the wrinkles at the eyes or the reflection of light on the texture of a canvas can say something so dramatic in such a simple way,” notes Ruben Gonzales. He can spend hours just watching people and their interactions, noting nuances that a quick glance would not reveal. Using watercolor and ink, attention to detail is central to his work, which he finds free-flowing and expressive. As a fine artist, despite the allure of detail, he finds the work radically different from what he does professionally, a perfect escape therapy and balance to the precise plans and drafts he works with daily. He can become completely absorbed in rendering the right shadow or flecking the optimum ratio of ink and water to create age spots. Gonzales says that “Often we architects compared to designers get painted as less creative and more analytical, but I think my art shows just how much more nuanced we can be.”


Chavela Vargas

Lady G

Nina Simone

Closing Thought

At IA we are intrigued and awed by our colleagues’ artistic talents, but truthfully every member of the IA team brings their special talents to all that we do. Our culture is built on a diversity of collaborators who are really passionate about what they do which makes each project all the more creative and fun.

IA is a global firm of architects, designers, strategists, and specialists. We focus exclusively on environments through the lens of interior architecture—a radical idea in 1984, when IA was founded. We are highly connected agents of change, committed to creativity, innovation, growth, and community.

IA is a global firm of architects, designers, strategists, and specialists. We focus exclusively on environments through the lens of interior architecture—a radical idea in 1984, when IA was founded. We are highly connected agents of change, committed to creativity, innovation, growth, and community.

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