MICHAEL LAU (B. 1970)
MICHAEL LAU (B. 1970)
MICHAEL LAU (B. 1970)
MICHAEL LAU (B. 1970)
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MICHAEL LAU (B. 1970)

Package Change: Three Michael Walk

Details
MICHAEL LAU (B. 1970)
Package Change: Three Michael Walk
signed with the artist's signature (right panel, lower right)
acrylic and collage on canvas, triptych
left: 152 x 122 cm. (59 7/8 x 48 in.)
centre: 198 x 122 cm. (78 x 48 in.)
right: 183 x 152 cm. (72 x 59 7/8 in.)
overall: 198 x 396 cm. (78 x 155 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2019

Brought to you by

Shanshan Wei
Shanshan Wei

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Lot Essay

Long revered as the "Godfather of Action Figures", Michael Lau combined his love of G.I. Joe action figures with the increasingly popular street culture in 1999 and created the Gardener series. 99 twelve-inch figures were exhibited in his solo exhibition held at the Hong Kong Art Center. It was a monumental event that put Lau on the international stage, which subsequently ignited a global craze to collect designer toys. In the article “20 Trends Sweeping the Globe”, Forbes magazine named Michael Lau the pioneer who created and led the worldwide fever for vinyl figures.
The 2018 solo exhibition Collect Them All! was a pivotal moment in Michael Lau’s artistic career. It was when he declared the artistic statement "All art are toys. All toys are art". The Package Change series made its debut in this show. In this series, the artist attempts to draw parallels between toy packaging with humans’ desire to better themselves in order to become more competitive — Package Change is a metaphor for self-improvement.
The paintings in Michael Lau’s Package Change series reference the vacuum forming process used in toys packagings. In terms of content, he utilized dark humor to wittily introduce to viewers the various manners of self-packaging and the advantages that come with the transformations. The price tags on the works denote value, and warning labels that are commonly seen on toys packages are replaced with “warming” labels — they serve as gentle reminders to the subjects who are undergoing the process of self-improvement. The eyes of these figures are superimposed with another set of eyes. The bottom layer represents the original state, and the top layer represents the outcome after the transformation.
Package Change: Three Michael Walk is the first triptych from the Package Change series. The triptych format originates from religious paintings in the Western tradition. It is also frequently employed by contemporary artists in recent years. The title of this work refers to a phrase in Confucius’ Analects, “When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them”. Michael Lau re-examined this Eastern traditional thinking and presented the idea from the perspective of a light-hearted visual experience. With this treatment, he achieved a perfect equilibrium by putting equal significance in both the form and the message.
Michael Lau purposely used canvases that are different in shapes and sizes to complete the triptych. This format is a metaphor for three people with different personalities and physique coming from different walks of life. The three different Michaels represent the wise, the brave, and the carefree. Carefree Michael signifies that those who have reached 15 years of age are most suitable to actualize Confucius’ teachings — it is the best stage in life to learn and blossom. Brave Michael adheres to the Confucian teaching of establishing oneself at 30 years old — it is a stage when one should have a firm understanding of one’s direction in life. It is a time to demonstrate one’s power to execute ideas. Positioned in the middle panel of the triptych is the Wise Michael. This pensive Michael symbolises the Confucian teaching of “one should no longer be confused at forty”. At this stage in life, one should have the wisdom to pursue selfactualisation.
Three Michaels exchange glances — it suggests that they observe and interact with each other. As such, each Michael is both a teacher and a student, because they can all learn from each other. This relationship of being both the teacher and the student can be extended to a relationship of being both the friend and the enemy. It is reminiscent of the works by English painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Specifically, in a triptych painted by Bacon, Freud is the subject in all three panels. His body is situated in a distorted yet flattened dimension — it breaks all laws of physics of our objective reality. This treatment can be seen similarly executed in Package Change: Three Michael Walk — three panels are self-contained yet connected. Through the artist’s brilliant use of framing, symbols, texts, and interactions between figures, it ceaselessly stimulates the viewers’ desire to seek an objective reality where some kind of rules would bind the composition together.
The character modelling and texture used in this painting is inspired by the material characteristics of sponges. It also references sponges’ capacity to absorb. Characters are rendered in a direct and linear fashion — it is stylistically consistent with Michael Lau’s aesthetic which he has honed for years. This visual DNA originates from him studying modern art early in his artistic career. His observations and subsequent permutations can be seen in his succinct and timeless sense of beauty, which is most often seen in Brancusi’s sculptures.
The composition of this triptych is inspired by Lego bricks. Through this allusion, the artist is able to articulate the interlocking and codependent relationships between people as well as between people and environment. Horizontal strokes, the character “one” in Chinese, can be found in the shadows of each Michael. As the three horizontal strokes are connected with one another, they make the Chinese character “three” in the title of this work. For individuals who are cultivating themselves, pursuing universal values and diversity in our society, Package Change: Three Michael Walk serves as a cautionary tale. A civilised society that prides itself on structure and progress must be built on space and platform that are open and fair. This openness should be just like the shared white spaces between the three Michaels where freedom is most vital.

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