Former SOSS grad Melanie Coles followed her art

Former SOSS grad Melanie Coles followed her art

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(The following is Melanie Cole’s story on her artistic journey as past recipient of the Pat McGibbon Memorial (SOSS Enrichment Fund Society).

On my walk to and from school in Oliver I would pass the Arabian horses on Sawmill Road by the river, sticking my camera through the chain link fence to take pictures. Now, every morning as I open the doors to the art gallery where I work in London, I see the Royal Horse Guard go past in their capes and hats as Big Ben strikes the hour. It’s bizarre when moments like this become routine, just horses by the river. I can’t say the 16-year-old version of myself would have pondered this current reality, I would have though taken those photographs of horses and meticulously pieced them into some form of collage, a practice that I have spent the past 15 years pursuing.

My parents were incredibly supportive when I told them I wanted to apply to Emily Carr University of Art in Vancouver. They could see it was the one thing I was clearly driven towards. They didn’t get upset by my endless piles of paper, paint and strange objects filling the basement or the countless sleepless nights I stayed up working on my acceptance portfolio. They never once suggested I study something more practical. A few weeks later a letter from Emily Carr came to the post box at Rural Route 3 saying I had been accepted to start that fall.

Moving from Oliver to Vancouver alone at age 17 was a big move. I hadn’t taken public transit before and the notion of getting on a bus and seeing people I hadn’t met before was strange. In general seeing people I hadn’t ever seen before was a new concept. I quickly got used to it, and learned how to ride the bus. In my last week of university I remember riding the 99 Bus to school and seeing pictures of myself on the cover of the free daily papers in the commuters’ hands or trampled on the floor. My thesis project had made the front cover of the papers (I hadn’t expected it to go beyond the school).

Mum sent a message that day saying I had returned home to Oliver via the front of the Vancouver Sun in the stand at Eastside Grocery. The project was a giant Where’s Waldo painted on a rooftop to be found using Google Earth (fellow SOSS 2003 alumni and friends Lisa Elgert and Jay Martiniuk helped with the massive painting). The next few days after class became an unexpected media frenzy of interviews with people calling from Brazil and New York and Breaking News helicopters flying over the painting for the evening news. It is a funny moment to look back on now and I still receive emails about it from different places like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, National Geographic and even a school in Antwerp where every year for their school project they paint a version on their school playground.

A few years after graduation I made another move to an even bigger city, London, UK. I now work in operations at The Institute of Contemporary Art, an art centre famous for its progressive history and location on the Mall. It has hosted early shows of Picasso, Yoko Ono, Man Ray and played host to early concerts by Leonard Cohen, The Smiths, The Clash and Throbbing Gristle. One famous story of the ICAs history was when the German industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten tried drilling a hole through the stage during their performance in hopes of getting into underground tunnels leading to Buckingham Palace.

Every day the job is different and interesting and I have to expect the unexpected. Last year I had to escort police snipers with telescopic lenses on to the roof so they could watch over the Queen’s birthday parade (which had nothing on the annual parade in Oliver, far less candy and no A&W bear).

While living in London I have also continued to pursue my own artistic practice. I studied contemporary collage at Central Saint Martins, was an artist in residence at the Royal Academy of Arts School (the title of my exhibit was Black Sage named after Black Sage Road in south Oliver) and have exhibited work, done talks and had screenings across the UK and Europe.

I have also been self publishing small run magazines of my collage work (the earliest issues were printed on the SOSS library photocopier – thanks to Mr. Smith pretending not to notice) and copies have since made their way into library collections across the world including the Tate Archive here in London.

It’s an honour to be featured as this year’s representative alumni for the SOSS Enrichment Fund. The education I received with the support of the fund paved the way to an exciting and fulfilling future.

I would like to encourage the upcoming graduates to go into fields that truly interest and excite them and not choose the path of least resistance.

Thank you to all the individuals and organizations that help support the scholarship program; it really does make a difference in young people’s lives especially in a town like Oliver where pursuing post-secondary education often means leaving home for a bigger city to study. I ended up farther from home than most, but I would still place my bets on the horses by Okanagan River over the Royal Horse Guard by the Thames at any chance.

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