Feet in two different worlds

Dave Rahn straddles two worlds.

One is defined by numbers, losses, gains and the intricacies of investments. The other does not rely on mathematical precision: It is the world of art.

The 61-year-old president of First Foundation Bank is both a banker and an artist, able to intermingle both traits as an executive and overseer of the bank's Art Services division.

The banking world is "filled with people who don't understand art, and all they're trying to do is turn a dime," he said. "I come at it from the artist's perspective. I've worked with a hundred artists over the last 12 or 13 years. I know how they get ripped off. As a collector, I know how it feels to buy things."

Rahn, a Lido Isle resident, and Managing Director Grant Withers, who is from First Foundation's Los Angeles office, head the services that entail art advising, collection management, financing, insurance, appraisal, estate planning, tax planning, investing, education and philanthropy.

It's a service common in New York but uncommon on the West Coast, Rahn said.

"Art is completely unregulated," he said. "The truth about art is, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, when you get enough of those eyes on the right pieces and the right artists, value goes up."

First Foundation started in 2007 but has roots that go back to 1990. In addition to its Irvine headquarters and L.A. office, it has locations in Pasadena, Palm Desert, San Diego and El Centro.

First Foundation Advisors has about $2.2 billion under its management, Rahn said.

Even the bank's brochure and Irvine offices on Michelson Avenue have that artistic touch, with plein air paintings interspersed throughout. It's part of First Foundation's corporate image.

Art Services helps make purchasing strategies and identifies trends within the art world. It's something Rahn has been doing for years as a collector.

Art being handed down through family wills is another challenge, Rahn said, because you "can't tear a million-dollar painting into fourths if you have four children."

"As you can imagine, in any given family where there is more than one child, there is probably at least one who likes the art and another one who doesn't," he said. "Multiply that by more children, the opinions become more diverse."

As for his own artistic abilities, Rahn, a Whittier native, had "the wrong art teacher" in high school, a teacher who didn't encourage him. But someone else did when he was younger: a neighborhood girl. She showed him how to draw on newsprint using charcoal.

"It's one of the fonder memories I have of getting connected to art at a very young age," Rahn said.

Some years later, while driving down Irvine Boulevard when the 261 Toll Road was being built, Rahn felt compelled to talk to two men who were painting outside: John Cosby and Jacobus Baas.

Both artists were among the group who formed the Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn. in 1996. Cosby and Rahn would later co-found the annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational.

Rahn said the two "opened up the world of art" for him. Everything he's done from an artist's perspective stemmed from that first roadside conversation, he said.

Which is partly why, given his experience since meeting the two men, Rahn feels he can help his clients make intelligent art-related decisions.

"You're buying the painting, really, because you love it," he said, "but in the back of your mind, if you're a business person, you're also buying it because you think it's going to have long-term value."


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