Fred Gemmell went from submarine engineer to furniture maker to builder to designer, all because of an unquenchable artistic streak. “I needed a creative outlet when I was studying engineering in college, so I started painting,” he says. “Tropical Minimalism,” Gemmell’s pioneering style and form, is an abstract, highly expressionistic approach done in reverse painting on glass and dominated by the hot, florid hues he fell in love with as a child. “I was raised in Panama and was always in the jungle,” he explains. His fervor for painting eventually compelled him to return to architecture school to unite his left- and right-brain tendencies and establish Matrix Design Studio, a full-service architecture, design and fabrication firm in San Diego. Problem was, the business became so successful Gemmell had little time to paint, until now. Today, with a bona fide studio and gallery housed at Matrix, he’s splitting his time between design and art, and accepting commissions in both domains. “I’m lucky,” says Gemmell. “I’m able to follow all of my passions.”
LX: Design icons...
FG: I love the work of John Pawson, Shigeru Ban, Santiago Calatrava, Patricia Urquiola, Maya Lin and Renzo Piano.
LX: Current project...
FG: A beach house that has a rooftop pool with a skylight at the bottom, so it floods the stairwell below with light.
LX: Picasso or van Gogh?
FG: Van Gogh, because he followed his heart and cared very little about anything else.
LX: Tools of the trade...
FG: Close relationships with artisans and fabricators, the Internet and creating a familial feeling at my design firm.
LX: Design period you find most engaging...
LX: What do you collect?
FG: Handmade Japanese ranma screens.
LX: Inside tip...
FG: Curiosity, passion and discipline are the strongest ingredients for a creative life.