Childhood in the studio leads to the Metro Tunnel’s art program


Raised by a father who had oil paints and old trains close to his heart, it’s no surprise Mary Parker has become the woman behind turning the Metro Tunnel’s construction sites into canvases.

As the director of communications and creative at CYP Project Co (the contractor building the project’s tunnels and stations), New Zealand-born Mary believes Melbourne is an example of how to maintain a city’s appeal during a time of great construction upheaval.

“We’re working on a huge project in the middle of an international capital city,” she said. “You want that city to retain its cultural DNA. You don’t want it to become a no-go zone because of the construction, so by regularly curating art and activating the areas around construction, our creative program helps to keep Melbourne, Melbourne.”

Mary has a sense of pride in the fact the project’s creative program helps Melbourne remain an attractive destination, for when restrictions once more allow visitors.

“Early on in the project, when you could still travel, the New York Times ran something on what you could do in 36 hours in Melbourne,” she said. “The hero photo that they used was an art tram going past one of our construction sites with an artwork on it.”

“It showed that despite the fact we have construction going on, we’re still beautiful enough to plug tourism for Melbourne.”

While the Metro Tunnel Project and its creative program are only one part of Mary’s impressive resume, it’s something she’s been preparing for since she was a child growing up on the South Island of New Zealand.

“I pretty much grew up covered in oil paint, because my father was an oil painter,” she said. “He was an abstract artist – JS Parker. He passed away a few years ago and we’re lucky to still have a lot of his beautiful art.”

“He pretty much brought me up. Mum was at work, and I would hang out in his painting studio all day. I really did grow up literally immersed in art, having it cut out of my hair at times!”

It was JS Parker who taught Mary how varied art could be.

“He painted with a builder’s trowel, and he was fascinated with the surfaces and textures of things, particularly industrial,” she said. “When he went to art school in the ’70s, they were rebuilding the art school and he used to hop over the fence and grab bits of old material and use those in his paintings.”

“He always really loved railways and when we were going for drives, we’d stop at the side of the road if he saw a rusty railway wagon and he’d take a photo of it to use as inspiration for a painting. I’ve got rail and art in the blood.” •

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