One of Dallas’ newest art galleries is in an area of town known more for blue-collar businesses. And the gallery’s location is actually part of the plan.
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Oliver Francis Gallery sits on a fairly desolate section of S. Peak St. a few blocks up from Interstate 30. Just up the street is an auto repair shop. The gallery’s front door looks out onto an alleyway where grass covers the pavement.
It’s a far cry from the high-end art spaces that line Dragon Street near downtown and the design district.
“I searched Dallas, and I checked from least expensive to most expensive and I saw the first thing on there and it was this space,” says Kevin Jacobs, who has operated Oliver Francis since July. “I walked in and I was like ‘I want this.’ This is so not great that it’s amazing in itself. It’s not pristine, the floor’s not level … there was just a lot of potential with this space.”
Before you ask, Oliver Francis isn’t a real person – it’s a combination of the names of two London artists Jacobs admires – Oliver Rafferty and Francis Upritchard. He thought about calling it the Kevin Jacobs Gallery but decided that since the project is such an experiment, he didn’t necessarily want his name attached to it if it fails.
By day, the 23-year-old works full time as the exhibitions manager for the Goss-Michael Foundation, which is dedicated British Contemporary Art. Its collection is housed in a sleek, 12,000 sq. foot space in the design district. Oliver Francis Gallery could fit in one of its rooms.
But with Oliver Francis, Jacobs is more interested in working with emerging artists.
“I do want to take on a handful of artists eventually and I want to be able to grow with those artists,” he says. “To be able to support them, say that they have a dedicated space to show and they can do literally whatever they want.”
The gallery has already hosted five shows, all of which have featured a variety of media and leaned toward the avant garde. On Saturday, it will open a solo exhibition by Michelle Rawlings, the daughter of Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings. (Check out our Q&A with Michelle.) She’s primarily a painter whose working on a Masters degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her show also includes an experimental film component, which will be shown in the rear section of the gallery.
“There’s enough pressure already being an artist and feeling like you have to please an audience with your work or something – which you don’t. You shouldn’t feel that pressure, but inevitably, it’s difficult,” Rawlings says. “Working with Kevin is great because you just feel like you can own it and you can do what you want and just experiment. You don’t have to worry about the pressure to sell work.”
Jacobs would eventually like to expand the gallery’s presence in the neighborhood, collaborating with the people who live and work there. He says he doesn’t have any grand ambition that his gallery will transform the area into some new hip part of town, though there is a long history of artists doing just that.
But if gallery goers visit Oliver Francis and broaden their idea of what is an appropriate setting for an art gallery, he says all the better.
JACOBS: “It’s not really in the most desirable part of town. So for some, there is this kind of risk factor. But I hope that with the shows that I put on and Michelle’s show, that it’s – to be cliché- the gem in the rough.”