Parker Street Studios

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

Like a time-lapse of ice splintering its way across a window pane, development continues to crawl to all corners of this city. Replacing the past with modern structures of cold steel and cold glass.

It is why it is nothing short of a marvel that the creaky 100-year-old giant at 1000 Parker St. — a building that was once home to Restmore Manufacturing Co. That once made feather mattresses and iron beds and later, the Vancouver Revolver and Rifle Club — still stands. It’s in an old industrial part of East Vancouver. Where roads are worn jagged at the edges and cracked up the middle, sometimes revealing old rail lines. A reminder of days when much manufacturing used to occur within city limits.

The Parker Studios where amazing artists gather to create.

The part of the building’s wooden exterior that faces rail tracks is a long stretch of canvas for graffiti artists. From its odd little alley look upwards as a human sculpture dangles from a beam.

The heart of 1000 Parker St. is the 227 artists that work out of its 110 studios. Linked economically by reasonable rent and physically by an artery of corridors and stairways that give the place a feel of a tree fort. Many artists, such as abstract painter Laurel Swenson, share a literal corner of a studio. Others, such as sculptor and long-time tenant David Robinson, have taken advantage of the 152,000-square-foot building to match their artistic needs (in Robinson’s case, a beautiful white-walled and naturally-lit gallery on the top floor, with a generous workspace.

The creation of the studio

Robinson remembers when artists took over the third and fourth floors during the 1980s. In a building that was nothing more than unused wide-open spaces and an empty haven for pigeons.

“Back then we just sort of erected walls here, there, willy-nilly. It was marking your territory with cardboard and chicken wire. My first doors were practically just that,” he said. “There’s a special spirit to this place and any chance I get; I tell that to the building owner. It’s very special.”

Robinson is well-regarded internationally for his figurative sculptures. (In art school, he was told sculpture “was a dead language not to be involved with.”) For Robinson, it’s being a part of a community of artists and contributing to a living space that’s vital. That hanging figure in the back alley, incidentally, is Robinson’s handiwork.

Home to Vancouver's great talent

Swenson’s corner is two floors down with her canvasses and panels of beautiful swirls of green and turquoise. Swenson, too, spoke of her process. Her's is one of the layers, brushstrokes, marks and a real physical connection with the canvas. Which is especially impressive considering she often works on her paintings right after early morning workouts or rock climbing.

“These two paintings, they’re great big pieces of canvas, so I put them straight on the wall,” she explained, pointing to her larger pieces, one of which is titled “Do No Harm But Take No Sh**.”

“Mounted canvas is a soft surface, so when it’s just on the wall, you can be a lot more physical with it which is what I like about it.”

Unlike her sculptor neighbour, Swenson is a relative newcomer to the Parker Street Studios. Having arrived three years ago after deciding she needed separation from her home office and its distractions.

“It’s such a fantastic studio space, and the building, it’s like a maze, and it’s a crazy relic that has so much character. It’s amazing that it even still exists and is used for artist studios,” she said. “It’s a special place.”

An old building like Parker Street Studios may not be the geographical heart of a city, but it does give it some soul.

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