In memoriam: Opal Mclean (1997-2023)

The School for the Contemporary Arts mourns the loss of Opal Mclean, one of our most gifted and promising alumni, who died suddenly in a car accident on July 19th, 2023.  

Opal Mclean had a certain brightness. A distinct loudness. She was a kind of charismatic beacon that brought people together, which came in handy because working in collaboration with others was a key element in her art practice. Together with her friends (and SCA alumni) Francisco Berlanga and Natalie Chan, Opal founded the art publication ‘Withintensions.’ I was deeply honoured when Opal asked to interview me for their inaugural issue in January of 2020. Since then, ‘Withintensions’ has drawn together a community of young artists and has worked to provide a platform for their artwork and ideas. In her individual projects she continually pushed herself beyond her comfort zones. This can be seen in (Don’t) Make Me Dance (2019), her funny and touching performance-based video work, where she dances in public spaces such as, for example, on the SkyTrain – much to the surprise and bemusement of the other commuters. Opal was filled with so much joyous and rebellious potential, it is unthinkable, unimaginable, and heartbreaking to believe that she has left us at the young age of 26.  

On behalf of the faculty and staff at the School for the Contemporary Arts, we send our sincere condolences and love to Opal’s family, friends, and former classmates. She will be remembered with admiration and affection and will be dearly missed by all who had the good fortune to know her.

— Kathy Slade | August 4, 2023

Please read the tribute to Opal written by Francisco Berlanga and Natalie Chan below, which is soon to be published on the Withintensions website:  

There is one thing that I have found through my experiences. When you fall apart, you have to find a way to pick up the pieces and carry on. The pieces never seem to fit together the same way but you end up with something brand new.

— Opal Mclean

It is with very heavy hearts that we must share that, on July 19 in the afternoon, Opal Mclean was involved in an accident and passed away. There are not enough words in the world that could capture, that could truly express the loss of Opal. In our greatest attempt, we want to begin by telling you what she was proud of.  

She was proud of her art degree, she was proud of her art, she was proud of her friendships, she was proud of her job at the Surrey art gallery, she was proud when she could make you crack a smile, she was proud when she got you as excited as she was, she was proud when all you could hear was her, she was proud when she pointed something out you'd like in a store, she was proud of working with artists, she was proud of making a difference in the community, she was proud of having days to rest, she was proud of being less than a half hour late, she was proud of her Starbucks order, she was proud of the magazine, she was proud when she looked at art, she was proud to show off cool trinkets she had collected, she was proud of laughing, she was proud of speaking her mind, she was proud when she created, she was proud of where she was, she was proud of how far she'd come, she was proud when she finished something, she was proud of who she was and who she hoped to be.  

Opal was a founding member and editor of our online arts magazine Withintensions. Every word that passed through our issues was reviewed by her eyes - if you ever emailed us, it is likely you spoke with her. It is impossible to describe the major role Opal took up not only in our organisation but in our lives. Withintensions was founded in 2019 by three friends who were simply trying to create an accessible arts space after graduating from SFU, Opal tied us together and helped form the ethos that we still carry on to this day. Opal was also a wonderful artist. Her work focused on her relationship with her mental health, often expressed through whimsical forms such as her dancing videos and her recent series of mutilated selfies. Her writings expressed her inner thoughts processed through memories, poetics, and musings. In her artist statement, Opal described herself as the "selfish artist", but anyone who has ever had the pleasure of collaborating with her knows that she always brought so much generosity to the process of creating. Opal, above all, was an irreplaceable part of our lives and her impact on us is something we will always carry with us.

For the month of August, we have decided to put a pause on our regular submission schedule and instead we will be inviting those who had the joy of knowing Opal to share and celebrate her life through stories and reflections on her art. This is not an open call, and we will be reaching out to those who we know would want to share their memories of Opal. We hope that we may be able to find all the right words to honourably memorialise the experience of knowing her, that we may be able to capture the exuberance of her being. But of course, for anyone who knew her, you know that no words could truly capture Opal.

Opal will be missed greatly, her vibrance lives on through her art, through the magazine, and through her friendships.

— Francisco Berlanga and Natalie Chan

August 10, 2023