Artist in a galleryRosa Park’s instincts are often spot-on. “A lot of people think that I moved to LA to open a gallery. I did not. I came to LA because it was something I wanted personally,” recalls the Korean-born Francis Gallery founder of her family’s move from Bath to the US in 2021. “Then I thought, what am I doing here, I need to work, and the gallery came very quickly. Because we already had a lot of American clients through Francis in Bath, it didn’t feel like such a big risk to open a second space but I have to say now, that it absolutely was a risk.”

Art gallery

This isn’t the first time that taking a chance with her career has paid off. In 2012, less than a year after meeting her now husband, photographer Rich Stapleton, the pair launched independent travel and lifestyle magazine Cereal from their living room. The initial print run of 1,500 copies – which was packed by hand and wheeled to the post office in suitcases – sold out (over a decade, the magazine’s readership reached 40,000, with three foreign editions; now it exists as an online archive). “Maybe we didn’t think it was so crazy because we were really young and I don’t think we fully understood what we were starting,” she recalls of the publication, which swiftly became known for its minimal aesthetic and beautiful photography. Off the back of Cereal came city guides and creative consultancy – and Rosa’s passion for art.

Round wooden table and woman's shoulder “I don’t think I would have started the Francis Gallery without Cereal. It gave me an arts education. I didn’t study art history in school and I had no plans to work for an art institution, but we were interviewing artists, and travelling around the world documenting stories on museums and galleries. During that process I fell deep into that world, in terms of my interest and engagement,” explains Rosa, acknowledging the already-saturated gallery market. “I couldn’t let go of this idea that I could do something. It’s not to say that I didn’t buy art from elsewhere but it was about curating the whole package: the roster of artists, how work is presented, the price point, the programming.”

Art in a gallery and wooden table To test if there was audience appetite for her vision, she held a pop-up group exhibition in London, showing pottery by Korean artist Kim Sang-In, alongside the work of Japanese sculptor Mari-Ruth Oda and Chinese painter and architect Spencer Fung. “I am very influenced by my heritage and cultural upbringing, especially because I’m a first-generation immigrant. It was very important to me that the first show had heavy east Asian influence,” she says. A huge success, it gave Rosa the confidence to open a bricks-and-mortar gallery in Bath, where today, she presents contemporary art in a classically Georgian setting.

For Rosa, selecting artists comes down to intuition rather than any calculated strategy.  “Without sounding like a hot mess, for me there is very little logic in why I choose the artists I do. I just know very quickly when meeting someone or spending time with their work if I want to represent them or not. I’m attracted to artists who are brave enough to be brutally raw and honest in their art, and that manifests in different ways,” she says, citing LA-based Korean-American artist John Zabawa as an example. “When you look at his paintings, the first impression is that they are playful and bright but I know what he goes through to create them. It’s a soul-excavating process process.”

All of which might sound at odds for a gallerist who is known for showcasing works that seem serene and calm. “I think I subconsciously seek some semblance of zen because my personality is the opposite of that,” she confirms. “I’m a product of my environment. If you look at Dansaekhwa, a hugely influential movement of Korean modern artists, that’s what I grew up on. There’s a restraint to Korean culture that’s embedded; it’s just a way to exist and look at the world.”

Although there will always be overlap between the Bath and West Hollywood spaces, each venue has its own identity. The spring show in LA, Anew, will see the work of British photographer Garry Fabian Miller and glass artist Andrea Walsh, paired with textiles by Copenhagen-based Chris L. Halstrøm. “I think there’s an interesting conversation between these three artists and their relationship to light, both literally and metaphorically,” says Rosa. “Garry does filmless photography, creating images by manipulation of light; Andrea is all about reflection and transparency, whereas Chris’ colour palette is inspired by Joshua Tree and Californian deserts, and absorbs the light.” Meanwhile, next up in Bath this May is a collection of new works by Cornish painter Dot Wade and sculptural stone pieces by creative studio JamesPlumb.

As if curating 10 shows a year (and travelling back to England every few months) isn’t enough, Rosa is also set to launch a by-appointment complementary third space in a Spanish colonial LA villa this summer. “Ultimately as a gallery, we’re trying to share with clients how to live with art. A lot of people talk about how a gallery looks like a home so I decided to have a residential setting with small collections of works by different artists in-situ.” Another case then, of Rosa’s surefire hit instincts kicking in.

Anew runs at the Francis Gallery in LA until 15 June. The collection of new works by Dot Wade and JAMESPLUMB will be on show at the Francis Gallery in Bath from until 13 July. 

Rosa wears the TOAST Cleo Garment Dyed Organic Cotton Tee and Cotton Linen Easy Sweater.

Words by Emma Love.

Photography by Justin Chung.

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1 comment

I think this has been one of my Toast magazine favourite articles!

Jacqueline 2 days ago