Studio Visit: Michael Lau

The ‘Godfather of Toy Figures’ describes the evolution of his playful artworks while inviting us into his studio for a peek at his forthcoming selling exhibition, COLLECT THEM ALL!, presented at Christie’s Hong Kong, 11-27 April

‘All toys are works of art, and all works of art are toys,’ says Hong Kong artist Michael Lau — dubbed the ‘Godfather of Toy Figures’ — whose three-dimensional vinyl characters have became must-haves for art-world insiders from Paris to New York to Tokyo.

Michael Lau (b. 1970), Play, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 152.5 x 11 cm
Michael Lau (b. 1970), Play, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 152.5 x 11 cm

As a child, Lau’s imagination was deeply marked by the American toys that flooded Hong Kong in the 1970s, G.I. Joe action figures in particular. ‘Toys have always played an important role in my life,’ he says, ‘from collecting and making toys, to elevating them into what is now considered to be “art.”’

Michael Lau (b. 1970), Salvator Michael, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Diameter 152 cm
Michael Lau (b. 1970), Salvator Michael, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Diameter: 152 cm

Alongside American toys, Hong Kong street culture has also played a key role in Lau’s artistic development. ‘The skateboarding culture of the late ’90s inspired my style and journey,’ he says. Its influence can be clearly seen in his toy characters, which he styles in oversize cargo shorts, baggy tees and sneakers.

Michael Lau (b. 1970), 404 Not Found, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 120 x 120 cm
Michael Lau (b. 1970), 404 Not Found, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 120 x 120 cm

In his upcoming Hong Kong selling exhibition, COLLECT THEM ALL!, Lau looks to push the boundaries of his signature style. ‘I want to make a change for myself, forcing myself to use colours I’m not used to. Challenging my preferences and creating artworks that I am personally averse to is the only way to evolve; otherwise you’re just repeating yourself,’ he says. ‘I can’t be pinned down to one type of art.’

Michael Lau (b. 1970), COLLECT THEM ALL!, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 152 x 122 cm
Michael Lau (b. 1970), COLLECT THEM ALL!, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 152 x 122 cm

Underpinning Lau’s desire to evolve is a deep appreciation of the need for any artist to ‘think outside the box’, Lau says, because ‘the world doesn’t really need what we’re doing. We are creating things that are beyond people’s imaginations, bringing to life the dreams and ambitions that the world has lost.’

COLLECT THEM ALL!, Michael Lau’s sixth exhibition and his first selling exhibition with Christie’s, will run from 11 to 27 April in Hong Kong.