Like a great old roosting tree housing thousands of ravens and crows, Gastown is home to many artists. They flock to the neighbourhood, seeking refuge, community and a clear perspective. To see further than the rest of us is their aim and then to come back down to present their findings. They show us what’s real, what is authentic, what is true. They are an ‘endangered species’, struggling to survive against forces that look to silence their song.
Among the pack is Lee Roberts, a local artist who calls both Gastown and the Sunshine Coast his home. We perched together for a while as he shared with us his view and vision.
What draws you away from the Sunshine Coast into Gastown?
We typically spend 4 days a week in Gastown and 3 days on the Sunshine Coast. Gastown is the first place I came to upon moving to the West Coast and it is very much part of my DNA. I met my wife 25 years ago in The Blarney Stone. She was living outside the city and I was living here, so mixing it up between the two locations works well for both of us.
Back on the Sunshine Coast we’re building a permaculture driven environment where we are trying to grow as much food as possible. We now have water and sewer independence and ultimately we want to be living entirely off the grid. We have been working at this for 16 years and we also have an art studio nearby.
“I’ve always been very interested in Corvids”. Any idea where that comes from?
I was an ornithologist at the age of 12 while growing up in England. My school took the study quite seriously and I enjoyed being outdoors and away from the classroom. It was then that I discovered my innate love of birds and began to sketch and draw them.
When I was 15, I said to my parents that I was leaving home and going to art school. They wished me luck and with my bird drawings under my arm, I moved out and was accepted into a school in North Wales. For a period, I explored other artistic themes. In the last decade, I have returned back to the image of birds and that has again become my primary focus, particularly with ravens.
Why are there so many artists and creative people here in Gastown?
I think that Gastown is a very eclectic place and can’t be defined as a neighbourhood that comprises only one specific lifestyle. The Downtown Eastside has protected Gastown quite a lot – architecturally and culturally as well as providing a home for the marginalized community in the city. There is currently no perfect picture of life in Canada. We are exposed to the real issues and artists are always looking for authenticity. Gastown is an authentic neighbourhood and we have to be careful that we don’t bring in the big brands and corporate identities.
We protect artists here and I myself am living in a live/work studio as an artist. As the rents go up, we are getting few and far between and the need to look after and nurture our local artists and artisans becomes paramount. We must find a way to afford to stay here and continue to sustainably make art.
Anything new and exciting developing?
Yes! We are opening up a new space in Gastown with a studio for myself, my wife and other artists. It will be a new collaborative public art studio; Goldmoss Gastown and we will be specializing in limited edition fine art, photographic prints and sculpture. Our opening is scheduled for July 6th.
Tell us about your artistic contribution to the upcoming #terriblewithnames Pop Up T-Shirt Art Show at TEES.CA here in Gastown.
I am happy to be part of the event, as the show will be featuring a number of original works by local artists, including myself. It’s probably the only T-shirt shop I know of where the focus is on art rather than mass production. They do in house silk screening where the owners are the crafts people, handmaking each unique print in small runs. My designs will focus on ravens, which were made from industrial waste razor blades. Normally I use industrial or biological waste from other people but this time I will be using my own waste (blades), which I use for cutting leather, rubber and other materials. The first artworks from this new series will premiere in the show.
227 Abbott Street
Friday, May 26
6pm – 10:00 pm
Join Tees.ca and local artists on May 26th for a colourful West Coast candy glam sci-fi ice cream dance party! Actually, it’s a popup sale & art show where the store will unveil up to 10 original new t-shirt designs at Tees.ca in Gastown.
Come hang out, have a drink and a chat, any maybe buy a sweet new t-shirt!