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Morning Rituals: Rosa Park of Cereal Magazine

Photos: Justin Chung

Interview: Casey Wojtalewicz

Art Direction: Ally Walsh

Rosa Park is best known as a co-founder of Cereal Magazine and the founder of Francis Gallery. We met Rosa in the early days of Canyon (pre-pandemic times) through our friend and oft-collaborator Justin Chung. Justin invited Rosa and her partner/Cereal co-founder Rich to our Venice apartment for coffee, and we’ve been friends ever since. Our relationship has only grown with the couple’s move to Los Angeles and our mutual embarkment on the journey of parenthood. 

So it felt both fitting and full circle to visit Rosa for a Morning Rituals feature, shot by none other than Justin. After a visit to Rosa’s home and Francis Gallery, we sat down with her for a conversation around her beginnings (how she went from Seoul to New York to England to LA), the art world, Los Angeles, aging, books and more. 

We’re excited to share this feature on our friend. We hope you enjoy.

Do you have a morning or daily ritual? Has it changed over time?

I used to have a morning ritual! Before having my son, I’d meditate and have a cup of coffee. And when I lived in Bath, I’d then walk alone to work. That trifecta used to set me up for my day.

Nowadays, not so much! I’m still a big coffee drinker, though. Three to four cups a day. I’m one of those people that can have a cup at midnight and then fall asleep. Some might say I need to reign it in, but coffee sellers can rejoice that there are people like me! 

While being a mom has changed my mornings, I do maintain an evening ritual. Every night after putting Turner to sleep, I read. Reading has been the one constant in my life since I was a kid; my parents say I was always buried in books. It’s the first thing I started collecting. Whenever Rich and I move into a new home, bookcases are the first thing we install.

I want to hear how you wound up in LA, but let’s backtrack. Where did you grow up, and how did you come to live in England? 

I was born in Seoul, Korea, and grew up going back and forth between there and Vancouver with my family. I was a big city kid. After college in Boston, I wound up in New York, and spent the first half of my twenties there.

Even then, I knew New York was not for me. I was working in fashion and beauty marketing at the time, and when I hit 25, I knew I needed to change my environment. So in a rather abrupt fashion, I announced I was moving to England to get my master’s. And I didn’t want to relocate to yet another capital city, so I moved to Bristol — somewhere I had never been to before — because a close friend from England said I’d like it, and likely prefer it to London while studying. That was reason enough for me at that point in my life. 

That must have been quite an adjustment, though.

The beginning was. I didn’t know a single person, and I spent the first six months mostly in solitude. But I remember thinking, about four to five months in, “...People are really nice here.” That doesn’t sound particularly insightful, but I was struck by the leisure, the kindness, and the space that most folks seemed to possess in this smaller city (granted it’s still the largest in the South West of England). Coming from New York, it felt incredibly relaxed.

It was the first time I was shown a different path in life. I felt pressure from my family to live a certain way — I suppose, the way they raised me. Moving to the South West, I experienced a version of my life that was entirely novel to me; and I thought it was wonderful, so I stayed. 

Is Bristol where you met Rich?

Yes, I met Rich there, though we both moved to Bath soon after. What’s funny is that we arrived in Bristol at the same time. We were the same age. We were both looking to make a change in our career. We formed an instant camaraderie that became friendship, and then more. Within a year of meeting one another, we started Cereal. 

England is the place where I learned to be truly comfortable in my own skin. It’s also where I started both of my businesses; where Rich and I got married; and where we had our first child. It is the first and only place where I’ve felt deeply connected to a geographical location — the physical land for which I yearn. I felt this acutely after I moved to LA, realizing that I not only missed my community back in England, but also the landscape. I often think of the changeable, striking Turner-esque skies – the British painter who our son is named after. 

It can be challenging to have that rooted connection in a big city.

Yes, I think that’s why most artists, at some point in their journey, leave the city – if they were there to begin with – and escape beyond, in order to create. I believe to produce something that feels ‘original’ to us, we need space: Literal space, mental space, emotional space. If you’re feeling cramped and contracted, your output is less likely to be the most inspired / inspiring. People may disagree with me here, as some do thrive under pressure and constraints; but for me, the notion of ‘space’ is of paramount importance.

Did you move to Los Angeles for Francis Gallery?

No, we came to LA for Turner, not for work. We wanted him to be raised in a culturally diverse environment, and Bath is one of the most homogenous cities in the UK. Rather than telling or teaching him about diversity, we wanted him to live it. To be completely immersed in it. 

Before getting into Francis… could you first share a little of your perspective on art, at large?

Art is one of the most ancient forms of creative expression that we have a record of. What do you see at a vast majority of museums? You see art. I think part of the reason we’re collectively fascinated by, and enthralled with art, is that it does not serve a direct, pragmatic purpose… and yet, for as long as we know, back to the cave drawings, we’ve been creating it. Why? Why do we keep creating art? 

Because expression of self and beauty is something we biologically and innately crave. And with art, we actualize that need. Art – at its core – brings visual richness, pleasure, self awareness, and intellectual stimulation — which is something we all seek. In our current, efficiency-forward, productivity-oriented capitalist paradigm, if things don’t serve a clear, immediate purpose, we can question its existence. And yet, somehow, at the fringes of it all (or arguably at the center of it all), art continues to evolve and expand. It’s an entity that won’t ever leave us, and continues to define us. Of course, we’ve (inevitably) created a part of the art world that is focussed on making artworks into assets that generate immense sales; however, if you strip it all back, down to its essence, art is about identity and meaningful self expression. 

With artists, it’s not a job; it’s not a vocation. It’s their identity. That’s why artists never stop ‘working’, they create until they die. They dedicate themselves to the pursuit of creating something out of nothing, to continue to inspire, provoke and express. 

Why Francis Gallery?

The main motivation for starting Francis was to create an art-led space for me and my peers. To gather, to view, and to enjoy the art; and perhaps even purchase the art! Because it wouldn’t be five million dollars for a work (laughs).

Then I got a reality check a couple years in, in regards to earning a sustainable income from the endeavor. The dissonance arrives in that we have a certain standard of quality for the gallery: for how artworks are presented, promoted and shared, and in how we support our artists. 

Though we started with the intention of only selling art that was ‘accessible’ – which in itself is a slippery word – what we discovered is that the cost to achieve that standard did not add up to what our art was being sold for. I know that sounds rather silly, and if I had an MBA… well, I’m the opposite of that, because I’m an English major who works with her heart! So, I was in for a rude awakening. 

Running a business can sometimes be at odds with the passion that led to it in the first place.

But I think the saving grace is: you don’t do this because it’s easy, or for any other reason that people might presume. You do it because you believe in your mission, and thus believe in your capacity to meaningfully contribute to the dialogue. If I didn’t, I’d have closed this gallery years ago. You guys (Canyon) know how hard it is! 

Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated at work, I’m able to claw myself out of that hole after a conversation with an artist or a client – they remind me of the why: I love my artists, I love the gallery’s community, I love curating shows and being a collaborative partner to our artists, and I take pride in being a director of a gallery that our clients love for its warmth and openness. 

I’m drawn to artists who dare to bare their soul through whatever medium they choose. That honesty… you cannot fake that. Because your body, your subconscious will pick up on the cues. It’s beyond words, beyond rational thoughts. When I meet an artist, I need to intuitively feel that they’re being raw, honest. And when they are willing to go there, I’ll joyfully take it all — the struggle, the joy, and everything in between. And help translate that message within a gallery setting for our audience. 

What’s going on with Francis now? What’s next?

This year is our fifth year of trading, and the five year mark feels like a good moment to reevaluate and recalibrate, which we most certainly are doing. We’re currently working on a re-brand with Park-Langer, and we’ll be launching a new website presenting our new look next month. The new branding reflects the evolution of our gallery, both in our forthcoming programming as well as the changes that have been borne out of being in two disparate locations; you really couldn't have more polar opposite cities than Bath and LA. 

We’re also working on opening a third, intimate exhibition space in LA which will open later this year; it will be in a residential setting, and will complement what we do at our other two spaces. 

[Canyon] can probably really relate to this… you create a company, which inevitably is a brand… and that brand often takes on a life of its own. You give it an identity, and then it becomes its own beast. People identify it, and expect things from it; not so dissimilar from a person. But to survive at this current breakneck pace of the world, you have to keep moving forwards – whatever this might mean for you and your business. And I have an asterisk to that change… because you do want continuity and familiarity, with just enough surprises to keep people guessing. 

Did you always see yourself doing what you’re doing?

I never could have foreseen myself starting nor running a business! I’m a reluctant entrepreneur. I’m heart-led and intuitive; there is no business plan! I suppose if I want to do something, I wake up, and I do it. I reckon that makes me enthusiastic and active, but not sure if that makes me entrepreneurial. Growing up, I had always envisioned myself working for someone else, so it’s ironic to be in the position that I am now. 

Anything fortuitous that has ever happened to me… I didn’t chase it, it just happened. I’ve always had my head down working, then the opportunities came. 

Do you often stop to look around and take stock of where you’re at on your path?

Yes, and especially this year; I’m turning 40 in October. I’m not so hung up on age. But I think any markers of time provide moments to reflect… that’s all age is to me. Turning 40, I am taking stock of where I’m at. I’ve been working for 20 years. And to be frank, I’ve been very lucky. Life has been kind to me, it has offered so much opportunity, and had things work out when probability wise, they shouldn’t have. I don’t believe that any of us are fully in control of our lives. I think there’s a great deal of fortune and kismet… and because I believe that to be true, then I believe I’ve had an abundance of luck, to date. 

Coming up on 40, I’ve had to ask… why am I doing what I’m doing? Does it still mean what it used to mean to me? Living in LA… when you’re encountering people from all walks of life, and being on the receiving end of seemingly endless billboards and all manners of advertising, it starts to creep into your subconscious. And it’s a daily practice to catch myself, and recognize if I’m making a Rosa decision or if I’m being influenced and conditioned by others. Am I doing something just because it’s what everyone else is doing? Or it feels like what I should do? LA has a particularly strong hold over us in that way, so I need to constantly keep myself in check. 

What would it look like if you “succumbed” to LA?

If I was living in a way where I was trying to “keep up with Joneses.”

It takes a lot of clarity and courage to do what you want to do, even if it’s the unpopular way or opinion. I find that so ironic in LA, this place that bills itself as the wellness capital. Maybe wellness means different things to people. But I’d wager this is possibly one of the most unwell cities I’ve ever lived in. 

I understand that I may sound critical, but for me, it’s more neutral and observational. I try not to vilify certain things, or industries, or people, because we’re all a result of the systems we’re in. 

And through it all, you’re sharing art with the world.

Art is one of the most fascinating subjects to study, observe, and engage with. Because I’m eternally an optimist, that’s the baseline I always come back to. I’m thrilled I get to have a gallery space and work with such an incredible array of clients and artists. It’s what keeps me going.

This is also a time of disruption and change in every arena of our lives, including the art world. And I think to myself, “What a fucking time to be alive.” We’re critically thinking, we’re challenging, we’re inviting and enacting change, slowly but surely. 

What’s something that has helped you along your path?

Mentorship. The funny thing is, you never outright ask for someone to be your mentor. It happens organically, and you just know. I have incredible mentors in my life, and I’d work for any single one of them. I think of the many people who, seemingly, after the pandemic, are asking, “What’s the point of an office?” I think they’re missing out on an opportunity for learning. Great learning and mentoring transpires in the company of other great people. An office has the potential to be a ripe environment for learning, simply by observing others. 

What’s the book you’ve been telling everyone to read in the last six months?

Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. 

Another book is Renegade Beauty by Nadine Artemis. 

I loved both of these books because they feel radically open and honest. It’s refreshing to read them in the noise of the manifestation industries and beauty brands of today. 

Rosa Park is the founder of Cereal Magazine and Francis Gallery in Los Angeles.

Follow Rosa's personal journey @rosaliapark and her creative and business ventures @cerealmag and @francisgallery.

All photos by  @justinchung