Last Saturday, Korean Class MASSIVE had the pleasure of meeting up with Francesca Cho and chatting to her about her work. Francesca currently has an exhibition on over at Riverside Studios called A Pair of Fragile Glasses, and it’s possibly her most personal and intimate exhibition yet. It’s only on until 31st August so make sure you catch it whilst you can! In this exhibition you will see Francesca’s work from over the past few years, her sketches, her old pieces, her notes and drafts, giving you a really interesting insight into how an artist works and creates their pieces. We have met Francesca before at Place not Found and she is one of the first Korean artists to become established on our shores. Francesca is a very inspiring and friendly lady, nick named ‘Lucky Girl’, and she’s been living in the UK for around 20 years now. We spent a nice Saturday afternoon listening to Francesca Cho telling us about her art pieces, her career and her life.
Francesca first came to the UK to learn English and was sent to Bradford (yes, Bradford). With the little English she learnt in Korea, she arrived alone at London Heathrow, took a early morning plane to Leeds where her request for a glass of milk resulted in a glass of beer instead, and was then told to take a black cab from Leeds to Bradford! And so began her magical journey from South Korean art student to established artist. Francesca only spent 3 months in Bradford, moving to London to start applying for art courses. But her short time in Bradford resulted in her university interviewers being baffled by her accent as she was possibly the first Korean to have a Yorkshire accent! Francesca then went on to study art for 6 years in the UK.
Her nickname ‘Lucky Girl’ started during a student showcase. As the students took it in turns to guard the exhibition, Francesca watched as some English ladies spent hours staring at her piece and getting emotional. Francesca was touched to see how someone could relate to her art so strongly, which is extremely rare at student exhibitions, and so began the reign of ‘Lucky Girl’. Francesca’s professors were also quick to pick up on her talent. Right after her BA, at East London University, Francesca was offered to hold her first exhibition, a huge step for any budding artist and seriously impressive at such an early stage in her career. And you can see why, as we walk around her exhibition you can really feel Francesca’s heart and soul in her pieces.
One of the main features of Francesca’s exhibition is using natural material in her work. One of the key materials she uses is ash but this is not just your ordinary ash, but the ashes of her personal effects (i.e. letters from friends and family back in Korea). Not being able to completely part with these personal items, Francesca looked into finding a way to preserve these memories and feelings. By burning the items, she would be able to use the ashes in her work and therefore incorporate all these extra meanings and feelings into the pieces. Burning these precious items might sound odd, but when Francesca dies, these items would not mean anything to anyone else and would get thrown away. By using the ashes of these items in her art, it would be a way of preserving these memories. Francesca would label all the mounds of ash noting down what they came from and as she uses it in her work, each painting holds an extra special and private meaning to Francesca as they are not only a part of her, but a part of her history that will be able to last for many years as art. What a way to keep the things most precious to you alive long after you pass. Francesca is possibly one of the only artists in the world who uses such method. Another artist collects the ashes from incense from Buddhist temples to use in his pieces, which gives his art a very different feel to Francesca’s.
Rose petals – Vive la rose
Having lived in England for so long, Francesca drew inspiration for this piece from the British November 11th Memorial Day. Francesca created a beautiful installation where a beautiful painting was accompanied by a rainfall of rose petals that looked like it was cascading down the painting. The image of poppies falling onto the standing soldiers during the memorial service captivated Francesca with its beauty and emotion. To Francesca the waterfall of poppies looked so beautiful yet they embody such a sombre meaning. The petals represent a sort of mortality and the fragility of life; continuing with Francesca’s theme as like the ash, these petals are fragile and vulnerable yet represent a strong existence and meaning. Behind these petals lies a painting of buildings and structureswhich represent immortality as they stand for hundreds of years. By using dead rose petals, Francesca forces us to see past the fact that the petals are dead and discolouring, but to see the whole picture, that the dead petals collectively with the canvas create a beautiful yet sad impression upon the viewer. Many people have gone on to comment how beautiful the dead rose petals look reinforcing this idea of “Beauty in Death”.
This installation has been very popular and we’re very excited to hear that Francesca plans to expand this further and even plan a whole exhibition covered with falling rose petals. We think it would look absolutely breath taking! This was like a tester/teaser to see what the public would think; a type of ‘Rehearsal’, the image to the left of the installation is a sketch of what Francesca envisioned. This installation really shows how much emotion Francesca puts into her work and how receptive audiences are from the emotional responses Francesca receives in return. All her pieces have such strong and personal meanings. As we chatted to Francesca, she opened up to us about certain hardships she’s encountered throughout her career. And as we return to her first installation that we encountered “Can U C the real me?” at Place not Found, you can really feel the emotions and thoughts she’s trying to convey with the fake and real flowers. The clever title has automatically included the viewer in the thought of “Who am I?”. How do we come across to people, genuine or false? By using the word “Me”, this installation reaches out to everyone in a more personal and direct way compare to the other pieces.
Another reason as to why this exhibition is so personal to Francesca is because it features many previously unseen work and private sketches. One of the oldest pieces is from 1994 and is Francesca’s favourite piece. Handel’s Sarabande is a very emotional piece for her as it’s her favourite classical piece and in Korea, her University was close to the sea. When she first came here, she really missed being able to see the sea often and this piece of music made her think of the ocean and create this beautiful piece. Francesca tells us there is so much energy put into this piece, powered from her emotions at the time, there is no way she could replicate this piece. Many of these pieces and sketches are like memories to her and even though all the art is up for sale, a part of her is scared about losing these memories. A few of the pieces on display were actually sketches of previously sold work which is all she has left of those pieces.
A piece thats really worth a mention is one of Francesca’s earlier works from 1996 featuring Hangeul. Francesca was missing Korea and decided to incorporate Hangeul into her piece. She uses King Sejong’s beautiful poem Yongbieocheonga. If you look closely you’ll see the ladies dancing in hanbok and the colours of the hills and mountain are just so rich and fresh. This is one of our favourite pieces as it’s so visual and traditional, a piece that reflects Francesca’s Korean heritage.
The exhibition is not going to be on for much longer so please do catch it whilst you can!!! This is a chance to look into an artist’s mind, see the workings and meanings behind all the pieces. Francesca is a very interesting artist with pieces so full of heart. Her skills are also unfathomable as her work ranges from pencil sketches, oil canvas, installations to working with interesting materials such as ash, petals and paper; showing she can just about work with anything!