Rosa Park, Director of Francis Gallery, has an intimate understanding of objects – an intuition for materials and meaning that presents itself in subtle and affecting ways. A skilled and sensitive curator, Park’s galleries in Bath and Los Angeles are a template for how to live with art.
Exploring ideas of intimacy and domesticity, for Park the gallery is an experiment in setting and scene. Looking to artists and collectors – citing institutions such as Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and the homes of Donald Judd and Georgia O’Keefe – Park introduced antiques, furniture and design pieces into the space, as companions for the paintings, ceramics and sculpture.
A mise-en-scène, each exhibition is a conversation between the artist, the objects and the space. Speaking with Park, I am reminded of the Gesamtkunstwerk – the 19th century concept of the ‘Total Work of Art’ – whose aim was to create a single, cohesive whole. Encompassing time, place and context – art, architecture and design – in the Gesamtkunstwerk each element enhances the other.
The gallery in Bath has been beautifully restored: replete with moulded wall panels and ornate cornicing, dark stained floorboards and generous wood-framed windows, its Georgian interior is the antithesis of the ‘blank slate’ or the ubiquitous ‘white cube’. Park notes that she doesn’t “have to work hard to make [this space] feel like a house,” and so, over time, she has developed a looser curatorial approach, using furniture and other objects more sparingly – to great effect. The pieces that remain are a reminder that good art, like good design, will last the test of time.
When I visited in early 2023, an exhibition of paintings and ceramics by Rosemarie Auberson was on display. Fields of colour and tone – each canvas boasts areas of dense, impenetrable pigment alongside thin, layered washes. Hung like musical notes, the paintings punctuate the space, drawing you through it… A small painting in soft, pink tones hangs beside the fireplace – itself a piece of contemporary sculpture with a gentle, curved hollow and rough papery finish. Off-centre and below eye-level, the painting’s position accentuates its tenderness, and the vulnerability of Auberson’s surfaces.
Like many of the artists represented by Francis Gallery, Auberson rewards the contemplative viewer – those who sit with the piece, returning to it over and over again. Speaking with Rosa after my visit, she notes that the artist takes each painting from the studio into her home, living with it for months – observing how it changes as the sun rises and falls each day – before she decides if it is complete. “When I found out about her process it made so much sense. I am very interested in the domestic scale of things, and so the way she works really resonated with me.”
In 2022, Park opened her second space in Los Angeles – for which she has adapted the gallery’s model to account for the architecture, history, scale and palette of her new locale. A reflection of her evolving interests, the US gallery will continue to develop the same themes as the first within a new context: “I worked very hard to create intimacy [in the LA space] – I built a partition wall that’s curved so that the single giant room is broken up into four quadrants, and within that curve we wanted to create a temple- or altar-like experience… I am still exploring the themes of intimacy and domesticity, but not in a literal way – more in the sense of how it makes you feel.”
Speaking from LA, Park notes that she, “changes constantly – always interested in the next thing,” and yet, far from being fickle, her philosophy is more akin to the practice of Kintsugi – the Japanese method for repairing broken pottery with gold, its newly veined surfaces acting as a reminder of its own history. “Things are meant to break over time, nothing lasts forever. That’s not to be flippant – in fact, it’s the opposite – it’s because I have so much love and respect for these things that I want to be with them every day.” Park’s approach is shared amongst her artists, each of whom embodies and interprets the philosophy in profound and personal ways, producing work that explores ideas of time, age and wear.
Drawn to impermanence and imperfection, Park is attracted to patina rather than gloss, intricate layers over exuberant forms. Seeking objects whose aesthetic merits are equalled by their meaning, she places great emphasis on the stories that attach themselves to objects – the grand, or personal, narratives that transform a simple object into a memento, token or heirloom.