Meet Melanie Coles


 Melanie Coles

Operations Duty Manager at ICA & Artist, Islington

Melanie Coles is a London-based visual artist working in collage and video. She has lived in London for 5 years and also works at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (previously at Barbican Centre) where she works in Operations and writes articles looking at the ICA's most controversial and iconic moments.  Originally from a small agricultural community in British Columbia, Canada, she now lives in a studio flat in the London borough of Islington, where she creates art and writes amongst her plants, art supplies and books.




// Photography by Malfalda Silva


Shop This Feature

I can’t really have any sense of routine in my life because my job is so erratic. Sometimes I will work until 4am and sometimes I will start at 6am so I don’t really have any repeating patterns. There are things in life I do often, but nothing is routine. I prefer it this way as it makes each day different.
My grandpa was an oil painter and also owned a souvenir shop so he made all the towns souvenirs. He loved to paint and I always loved his paintings. As a child I would take the recycling pile in my parents basement and cut it up, paint on it and glue it together into some form of building or creature. As a teenager I discovered the Xerox machine and started making collages and fanzines and it evolved naturally from there.
The process for my work really depends on the project. If it’s self guided collage work I usually just sit down with some old books or photographs, put on music and start cutting out elements and piece them together in ways I find pleasing and exciting, then sometimes adding paint or ink. If I am making work for a specific client or project I source material in a certain subject matter, and work from there. If I am working in video I sometimes bring 3-D elements into the collage as well, anything from chocolate bars to bath bombs to pearl barley. Lately my work has been combining collage with documentary storytelling as well.
I was recommended for my first job at ICA through someone I worked with at the Barbican. That was almost 4 years ago now and I still really enjoy working there. It’s a bit of a crazy place with a bizarre and fascinating cultural history starting with the surrealists, then moving through pop art, happenings, punk, industrial music, grime, etc. I have been writing articles about shows like Paintings by Chimpanzees and Prostitution which were totally left-field and controversial at the time but now are seen as important moments in art history. There are also private rooms to hire above the gallery so we get hilarious juxtapositions with guests from our events and then someones 80th birthday party upstairs. I like seeing the chance interactions between the different worlds.
Melanie's favorite books

Melanie's favorite books

I read a lot of biographies because I find real life more interesting than fiction. The most inspiring book I have read in a long time is Lee Miller: Life on Both Sides of the Camera. It tells the true life story of a woman who grew up in rural New York and went on to so many creative pursuits in New York City, Paris, Egypt and London. She was a set designer, a model, a surrealist photographer, muse of Picasso, collaborator of Man Ray, star of a Cocteau film, second world war correspondent and later a chef. It is incredible how good she was at all of these things. The book also tells of her as an old woman in entering a lot of newspaper sweepstakes and  winning various prizes.
Melanie's favorite books

Melanie's favorite books

Melanie's favorite records

Melanie's favorite records

The majority of my clothes are from the thrift shop in my hometown of Oliver, Canada. There are not really any clothing shops in town so the clothes that make it to the thrift shop are primarily from the 90s or earlier. That means lots of classic and good quality items that last forever. I tend to wear things I like on a regular basis and wear them for years. I will add in modern and simple pieces from Uniqlo or COS too. My main source of fashion inspiration has always been Archie Digest Magazine though my friend recently told me I dress like a female assassin.
I have been in the same little flat for over 4 years now so it has come together piece by piece. I try to fill it with as many plants as I can and I am definitely a neighbourhood scavenger when it comes to finding things use to decorate. My secret way to get plants for free is to fill glass bottles with water and add cut branches. They last a long time, make the flat look green and are free if you are clever in your neighbourhood with scissors. My beauty products are stored on a drawer organiser (I found on the sidewalk) hung to form shelves and my bedside table is a stack of books with a nice marble tile on top (I asked the tile shop nearby for a sample).
Melanie's favorite beauty products

Melanie's favorite beauty products

In the morning I will cleanse my face and use serum and moisturiser, then at night I will cleanse and use night oil and eye cream. My last step is always Kiehl’s midnight recovery concentrate oil, it smells like lavender and helps me sleep. My hair has a spirit of it’s own and needs about 8 elixirs to attempt to tame it.






Kokeb Ethiopian Cuisine

Floyd's on the Lane

Wonderful Patisserie