About the Artist

Chantal Maltais Oei in her studio. Chantal Maltais Oei in her studio.

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Biography

Self-proclaimed “artist for life,” Chantal Maltais Oei, feels that her artwork is derived from living. All aspects of Oei's existence culminate in her creations, as if she has crystallized her experiences into a solid form. She studies life; she observes, internalizes and documents. Hence, many experiential elements weave their way throughout her artwork. Inspiration comes in many forms, including world travel, influential artists and mentors.

Exploring the world and its many facets has always been paramount to Oei. This includes the observation of people, different cultures, belief systems, and various rituals, as well as the vastly diverse, natural environments on different continents to which she travels. Oei views herself as a treasure hunter, an explorer. She finds that global travel on this level is quite intense; one must be alert and aware of her surroundings. As reflected in her work, seemingly small events can take on monumental importance.

In 1981 Oei traveled to Brazil. There she was destined to experience her first significant encounter with a different culture, one that would prove to be life-changing. She happened upon an exhibition of local artist Carybe, which was presented in Salvador de Bahia and titled, “Mural dos Orixas.” Carybe's powerful mixed media body of work based on the theme gods and deities was so significant to Oei that she carried the promotional catalogue with her for over a year as a memento from the exhibition.

Several years later, in the early nineties, she came across another life-changing force, this time by way of art teacher, painter and mentor Francine Labelle. Founder of the Nouvel Atelier des Arts Visuels de Montreal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada Labelle strongly encouraged Oei to pursue a serious career in the arts. Eventually this mentorship facilitated the development of the artist's professional portfolio, which became instrumental in the attainment of her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Concordia University, also in Montreal. While building her portfolio, Oei was selected for two important juried exhibitions: the International Design Show of Montreal, and the Nouvel Atelier des Arts Visuels de Montreal. At that time she also entered into a one-year exhibition contract with Hydro-Quebec and Bell Canada's Eco-habitation projects, thus launching her career in the fine arts.

During her art studies at Concordia University, she made the acquaintance of several teachers and mentors. Alfred Pinsky, painter and founder of des Beaux Arts at Concordia University recognized her aptitude for mixing sculptural forms and colors and urged her in the direction of 3-dimensional painting. Sculptor David More inspired the integration of collage and attention to surface. Ultimately however, it was artist Russell Gordon who pushed Oei's limits in preparation for the “real art world.”

Chantal Maltais Oei in her studio. Chantal Maltais Oei.

The combined influences of travel, peoples and the arts resulted in the emergence of a new body of work, “La Foret un an apr├Ęs la tempete” (The Forest one year after the storm). The Canadian ice storm of 1998 was a tragic event for the people of Quebec, as well the inhabitants of the North American east coast. However, after the bitterness of winter, spring always follows. The work created during this time represents the transition of the seasons, however it was the aftermath of the storm that held the most interest for Oei. Her focus became an effort for recovery, in this case: nature's recovery. The artist set out to recycle and transform life that was destined to die prematurely. She created an installation that portrayed the relationship between the human body and the forces of nature, between strength and weakness. Oei gathered dead trees and limbs, presenting an installation / performance piece in which a new forest was constructed by using trees that were either suspended or mounted with repaired roots. The broken woodland was given new life with the help of choreographer Jocelyne Sarazin.

More recently, Oei integrated her photographic works into mixed media sculptural components. “Origins and Transformations” marked Oei's first, solo exhibition in the United States; this show was presented by Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In this body of work, Oei introduced us to different sites in the world that she considered to be sacred, including Southeast Asia and New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

The Longview Museum of Fine Arts, in Longview, Texas, USA, soon recognized Oei's exceptional talent in her chosen medium via an invitation to participate in the “44th Annual Mixed Media Invitational” in 2006. This exhibition directly facilitated her inclusion in the museum's prestigious, permanent collection. Closely following this success came “Short Stories”, a dual exhibition featuring Oei and mixed media artist, Mary Bennett. The curator of “Short Stories” was drawn to the masterful use of found objects in each artist's work. In this series, Oei presented different items, such as bones, horns, nests, and feathers, mingled with foundations of porcelain and wood.

Currently the artist resides in both Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA and Bali, Indonesia. She continues to create artwork that integrates found objects, organic and man-made. Her work has become a ritual similar to daily Balinese offerings.

Some would say that she integrates nature into her work. Oei prefers the idea of creating a shrine for her marvelous discoveries. She passionately erects environments for the objects she makes, transforming them, and offering them a new life.

Statement

My artistic journey began with an attraction to color schemes and tactile structures. These realizations lead me to integrate color and objects into my sculptural forms. I am interested in the balance that is created by utilizing both man-made and organic objects.

Observations of the world around me serve as my guiding force. For me, inspiration is ignited by limitless trigger mechanisms. A found object, a captured image, or a trace of someone's life experience, presents itself to me as a concept, a seed. After observing an object for what it is, I begin the process of discovering the potential it has within.

I think of this method as "borrowing" the things that I find in the world. By utilizing photography or working directly with the borrowed item, I am able to facilitate increased proximity and closeness with the object. I observe and attempt to understand them, as if I were embracing their soul. My own traces slowly begin to imprint and penetrate, until I witness a transformation. Each change is then integrated into my work.

All life forms on earth are subjected to innumerable transformations. There exists a constant regeneration in life, things are born, grow, die and are reborn again. Nothing disappears into the void; whatever has existed will forever be reborn into another configuration. Much like the chrysalis becomes the butterfly. This process fascinates me and fuels my research.

Metamorphosis in all of its guises is a subject that fills me with awe. Through my constant attempts to understand the nature of what surrounds me and the nature that is within, I find myself rediscovering life at every given moment.