Growing up in Hong Kong, “toys were like our friends,” says Michael Lau, who was the first artist to make collectible vinyl figurines, sparking a trend that has influenced major international artists such as Kaws and Takashi Murakami. “Other than being good company, toys provided us with emotional support,” Lau continues. Although modern technology has distanced us from each other, Lau noticed in the past few decades that toys have the power to bring people together and grant them the chance to share their views as well as experiences. “I find it interesting that objects like toys can create a lot of wonderful human connections and real-life experiences,” he remarks.
Hong Kong’s toy industry reached its pinnacle in the 70s when the majority of the toys were manufactured in this prosperous coastal city and could be found on shelves of countless, foreign chain stores. “This was when I was exposed to all sorts of toy samples,” Michael Lau says. “Moreover, street culture went viral all around the globe throughout the 80s and 90s. Several friends of mine who were into skateboarding, graffiti and hip-hop bands inspired me to create my first collection of toy figures in 1999—Gardener, consisting of 99 vintage 12-inch GI Joe action figures”.
To the “Godfather of Designer Toys, as Lau is known for having pioneered in the field of designer toy figures, inspiration can be found anywhere in Hong Kong. One of Lau’s go-to places for ideas is Tai Yuen Street in Wan Chai where hyper-realistic action figures can be seen posing behind numerous shop windows of local toy stores. He also frequents Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po, where “there are many seemingly-useless, miscellaneous objects that have the potential to form part of my artwork”.
Lau’s philosophy, “all art are toys, all toys are art”, connotes that all collectibles are both toys and art pieces in the eyes of aficionados. In hopes of promoting this notion, he recently returned to more fundamental art forms such as painting and sculpting, experimenting with new ideas that explore the boundaries of art.