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Blossom is awesome: Artist Michael Lau’s “Splendid Park” at Hong Kong’s K11 MUSEA

Prior to the opening of his first-ever institutional exhibition “Splendid Park” at K11 MUSEA — Hong Kong’s cultural-retail destination — artist Michael Lau opened the doors of his studio to share his thoughts on the upcoming showcase, and the transformation of his artistic practice since the 90s.

It was 1999 — seven years since graduating from Hong Kong’s First Institute of Art and Design — Michael Lau showcased his groundbreaking “Gardener” series, a total of 99 toy figurines that were drawn from the iconic G.I. Joe figures, with a sweeping emphasis on street culture. It was a series that revolutionized the common conception of toy figurines — which in turn inspired numerous designers around the globe — as in treating one as an art object rather than a mass-produced entity.


To the unassuming eye, perhaps “Godfather of designer toys” would serve as a convenient label when it comes to Lau’s decorated career.


Yet, be it a 12-inch figurine, 2-meter-wide triptych, or larger-than-life (literally) Snoopy-esque sculpture — to Lau, it has always been about art.



Previously, you talked about how the difference between figurines and sculptures lies in “scale,” which divides the two entities as art and toy. Can you talk about what inspired your decision to return to painting?

It’s always been contemporary art since the very beginning. To the unassuming eyes, it might look like toys, but I’ve been treating my work as art since day one — it’s only a matter of medium, or scale.


Even when working on a 12-inch figurine, the principles — such as aesthetics, geometry, composition, packaging, and more — are the same ones I practice across different mediums.


How will you describe your transformation, in terms of medium, from figurines to sculpture and paintings?

Speaking of my experience with figurines, we have to consider the art scene in Hong Kong back then — some two decades ago — it was not as vivid as it is now. So we had to come up with a way to present our art through a different medium. As I said, it’s always been art to me.


Over the years, as my thoughts evolve, accompanied by a larger physical space, naturally my works have enlarged as well — evolving from figurines to sculptural works… It’s a matter of space.

While the inspiration behind the characters from the Gardener series might be self-evident in their apparels, for free-hand form paintings, such as Salvador Michael and Wall of Jordan, how do you approach the works?

Every artwork begins with our curiosity — that’s how we set out to explore and create.


Say, for Wall of Jordan, of course I was inspired because, alongside fashion and cool sneakers, it’s about Michael Jordan — I mean, who doesn’t like him? To this day, I’m still captivated by street culture, because it embodies the feelings of being cool and trendy.



How did you come up with the concept for the upcoming exhibition “Splendid Park”?

To me, artwork is about documenting the artist’s growth, or their state of mind at a particular period. For the “Gardener” series in 1999, at that time I was drawn to street culture, therefore creating the works that were relevant to my everyday life and things that speak to my youth.


And for the upcoming “Splendid Park,” it pertains to documenting my journey as an artist over the past two decades, as well as enlarging the scale of my works.


Often, space affects our perception. With K11 MUSEA as the exhibition venue, it offers a great opportunity for shaping a park with my works — that’s how the idea of “Splendid Park” came by.


It’s as if placing a sculpture museum, with both indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces, inside a cultural landmark. 


What role do flowers play in the exhibition?

Since the onset of the pandemic, over the recent years we’ve become more accustomed to the objects or instances in a confined space. For me, the experience brought a sudden appreciation for flowers — the simplicity of their very existence can make a huge difference to your mood, as well as the ambience of an environment. Such a realization also inspired the “Flower” series of the show.


Accompanying the flowers in Blossom is Awesome, the show’s theme art, is a fence. Can you describe the meaning behind such pairing?

Back when I was coming up with the theme art, I had no idea what it meant; the imagery of a fence just popped up in my mind out of the blue.


As time goes by, it becomes clear that the fence serves as a symbol of the partition between traditional art and our kind of art. Such blockage could be due to misunderstanding or a relatively short history of our art.


Nonetheless, I believe blossoms will come to both worlds, whether you’re inside or outside the fence. 


Just as spring enriches everyone — different forms of art can shine together, transcending any division.


Is there any artwork that you’d like to highlight from this exhibition?

Dolce far niente (坐看雲起時) is inspired by a triptych created by Francis Bacon. Interestingly, mental associations emerge after you have seen a painting, especially when it comes to creating the Master series that pay homage to the acclaimed artists.


In Bacon’s triptych, it appears to me there is a person sitting relaxed — in three different scenes — while waiting for something to happen. This sense of waiting also speaks to our state of being due to the pandemic in recent years, where most of the time we have been compelled to just sit and wait. But, maybe that’s just how nature works — before the right time comes, you might as well enjoy the wait.


Can you walk us through the “First Encounter” series?

The “First Encounter” series is about the first moment where some iconic characters first appear in the world. For example, in the drawing I made for Snoopy, you’ll notice the reflection of Woodstock in its eyes, because that’s the first friend he meets when he was introduced to the world.


Certainly there are many spin-offs drawn from these iconic characters, however, as the classic Chinese poem goes, “if only things remained the same as when we first met” (人生若如初見) — we often forget how our favorite characters came into life. Through the “First Encounter” series, I hope to introduce the origins of these characters to the audience.


There are some random doodles on the drafts of the “First Encounter” series, are they drawn by you?

Of course. I love the way children draw. Actually the ultimate goal as an artist is to be able to retain the innocence of a child. It’s also the hardest part — and that’s why Picasso became Picasso.




Splendid Park

February 11 – March 5, 2023

6F, Kunsthalle, K11 Art & Cultural Centre

K11 MUSEA, Hong Kong