Kai Chan was born in Chung Kiang, China and immigrated to Canada in 1966. He graduated from Chung Chi College in Hong Kong and completed a degree in interior design at the Ontario College of Art. His work is textile based and three-dimensional. While his preferred fibre medium is thread, his work often includes other materials such as paper, glass beads, ink, toothpicks, lawn grass, cinnamon sticks and glass. Chan has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. In 1998 he received the Jean A. Chalmers National Crafts Award and was a winner of the Prix Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Crafts in 2002. His work has been exhibited across Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and the United States and may be found in collections at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, the Museum of Fine Arts, Huston, Texas, and the Musée des Arts Decoratifs de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec.
His work is critically received equally within the discipline of textiles and the visual arts. He participated in the prestigious 12th International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1985, and the equally notable International Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz, Poland in 2001, where he exhibited Ocean, one in a series of complex wall hangings comprised of thousands of toothpicks and thread – an indication that woven tapestry is now only one textile process among many, thanks to artists like Chan whose work is seen in a contemporary context of textiles as substance, structure and subject matter.
Chan's work manifests both his physical journey from China to Canada and his personal journey as an artist negotiating a cross-cultural identity. He draws inspiration from the basic elements in his immediate surroundings: light, air, earth, water, flora and fauna. He has chosen to work with everyday, and often recyclable and found materials because, for him, the nature of these materials represents a fundamental value that informs the human condition.