The Art of Private Equity

By Tim Hyland

Hess_PaintingJohn Hess says he had a very good reason for taking up painting: He was driving his wife crazy.

“I had very bad arthritis in the hips, and it reached a point about 17 years ago where I just couldn’t do much of anything,” says Hess, WG’75. “I needed something to do because I was driving my wife and pretty much everybody else nuts.”

One day, fate intervened. Hess was rummaging around the house when he came across one of his father’s old learn-to-draw instructional books. He picked it up and decided, basically on a whim, that he’d give it try. Four months later, having worked his way through the entire manual, he picked up another—this one about watercolors.

He was hooked.

Which is why, even after he finally got his hips replaced, and even though he never had given painting more than a second’s thought for most of his life, he kept at it. Nearly two decades later, Hess is still painting—and now, he’s putting his newfound talent to use.

In 2004, Hess and three private equity colleagues founded the Altius Art Exhibition, a charity art auction that features works—paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and more—only from professionals working in the private equity business. The auction’s motto? “The Art of an Asset Class.”

“We had the original idea some time ago— about 2000—when three of us at the firm realized we all liked to paint,” he recalls. “We started to think about organizing some kind of charity event for people in PE who also painted. The idea was that they would donate their work. At the time we didn’t know how we would do, because it had to be work they did, not work they collected. Paintings are easy to collect, but a lot harder to do.”

The first Altius event, held in 2004, raised £25,000. The second, in 2008, raised £40,000. The next is scheduled for June, in London, and Hess is hopeful for even better results this year. If nothing else, he says, the exhibition has become something of a semi-annual reunion for the private equity world—and a decent excuse to show off one’s work.

“It’s just a good bit of fun,” Hess says. “Some of the artists are actually fairly well known in the PE business. That makes it more fun, even if the work is not of the highest quality. It’s really quite amazing how many people have come out and done stuff for us. Even those [who don’t paint] were good sports about it.”

The 2011 Altius Art Exhibition is scheduled for June 9. For more information, contact art-exhibition@altius-associates.com.

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