Artist Chantal Malek is a purveyor of colour and emotion. It’s impossible to look at a Malek canvas and not be transported to the serenity of the forest, or to a vibrant place where luminosity reigns supreme. The abstract mind of this renowned artist brings meaning to tangled splashes of colour. And her work has attracted the attention of international art collectors who love her abstract style.
Malek’s unique style reflects her passion, her abstract vision and her love of colour. Bold reds. Icy blues. Sizzling yellows. Her fervour is such that she creates upwards of 150 works a year, while she also operates the Galerie d’art Céleste in St. Sauveur, teaches art, and restores paintings.
Yes, she’s a busy woman, but Malek, who lives in Lorraine, also considers herself to be very fortunate as she loves everything she does.
As with many artists, her career in the field began more by chance and as an extension of the hobby she had loved since adolescence, not unlike one of her influencers, Quebec artist Jean-Paul Riopelle. The most internationally acclaimed Canadian artist of his generation, Riopelle began his education in engineering and architecture and described himself as a “Sunday painter.”
Malek, who used to operate a draperies business, had her first formal training in private classes at home in Trois-Rivières and then furthered her studies under the tutelage of international artist Georges Boka. It was Riopelle’s style, colour and movement that really impressed and influenced her, but Boka was her real mentor in terms of colour. “He taught me the transference of colour. Shade and light,” Malek says. “You have to know how to work the colours and understand the pigment of colours. He was a very good teacher of that.”
And she was an excellent student. So good that when she had her first vernissage 25 years ago, it was an instant success and Malek realized not only that she had an opportunity to be a full-time artist, but that it was what she wanted to do with her life.
Since she lives in the country, nature was a logical inspiration for her. “Nature is energy,” says Malek. “The sea and trees inspire me the most.”
And she loves forests. Much of the preparation for her work involves long walks in forests, where she sketches scenes and transforms them into paintings. While she is famous for her beautiful renderings of birch trees, she says those trees are actually disappearing from forests. So she now sketches other trees and then replaces them with birches. She loves the colour of birch trees and how they bring light to her paintings and work well in juxtaposition with the colours of the countryside.
Her work ranges from abstract to what she describes as “figurative” with her depiction of trees. While she loves the freedom that painting in the abstract affords her, she knows that there is strong demand for her birch tree paintings. “My clients in Quebec just love the birch trees,” she says.
Her paintings sell for between $500 and $8,000. They’re sold, of course, at her own gallery, but she is also represented at several other galleries in Quebec, in Lebanon and in the Caribbean islands.
Her paintings are all done with acrylic paint and a spatula, something that developed more by chance than choice. Twelve years ago, Malek received an order for 10 paintings that all had to be done by Christmas. At the time, she worked exclusively in oil paint. “There was no way I could meet the order in oil so I switched to acrylic,” she says.
Now she prefers acrylic, particularly the colours, although she still occasionally produces works in oil, especially upon request.
While the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t affected how she works, it has affected her gallery, which was still closed when she was interviewed and which she was missing. She adores the interaction with clients and her ability “to open their eyes to what they are seeing.”
Painting, she adds, is therapeutic and distracts her from problems, while her work at the gallery is “joyful” and keeps her calm. “Every day I get to look at beautiful scenes, beautiful paintings,” says Malek. “It makes for a beautiful life.” •
Galerie d’art Celeste