Studio Visit: Michael Lau

The ‘Godfather of Toy Figures’ describes the evolution of his playful artworks ahead of his forthcoming selling exhibition, COLLECT THEM ALL!presented at Christie’s in Shanghai, 31 August–12 September

‘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.

Part 1 ‘Crazy Children 2000’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Salvator Michael Gold, painted in 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Diameter 152 cm (60 in).

Part 1: ‘Crazy Children 2000’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Salvator Michael Gold, painted in 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Diameter 152 cm (60 in).

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.”’

Part II ‘6-inch Vinyl Figures (2003 to 2017)’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Jordon, executed in 2019. Fibreglass sculpture, this work is unique. 230 x 100 x 80cm.

Part II: ‘6-inch Vinyl Figures (2003 to 2017)’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Jordon, executed in 2019. Fibreglass sculpture, this work is unique. 230 x 100 x 80cm.

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.

Part IV ‘Package-Change’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Package-Change Painting 5 – Three Wise Michael, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 183 x 275 cm (72 x 108 14 in).

Part IV: ‘Package-Change’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Package-Change Painting 5 – Three Wise Michael, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 183 x 275 cm (72 x 108 1/4 in).

In his second selling exhibition at Christie’s, COLLECT THEM ALL!  in Shanghai (31 August–12 September), 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.’

The selling exhibition will feature 50 exceptional paintings and sculptures arranged under five themes — ‘Crazy Children 2000’, comprising of nine figures that can be detached then re-assembled to form a figure depicting the artist; ‘6-inch vinyl figures (2003 to 2017)’, which includes Jordon, one of the most popular characters of the Gardener series; ‘What? We: Want!’ — an exploration of our dependence on the virtual world and the title of Michael’s solo exhibition held at Times Square Hong Kong in 2016 (the three Ws being an abbreviation of World Wide Web); ‘Package-Change’, in which Lau examines the pivotal role attractive packaging plays for toy collectors; and his newest collection, ‘Characters 2019’, which is inspired by the pictographic nature of Chinese characters.

Part V ‘Characters 2019’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Love (I love you even when I hate you), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Diameter 122 cm. 

Part V: ‘Characters 2019’ — Michael Lau (b. 1970), Love (I love you even when I hate you), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Diameter: 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 second selling exhibition with Christie’s, will run from 31 August to 12 September in Shanghai