Cover Michael Lau crossing Victoria harbour on the Star Ferry (Photo: Affa Chan/Tatler Hong Kong)

Artist Michael Lau, nicknamed the “Godfather of Designer Toys”, discusses the place of art in the city

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”.

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Above Videography: Kevin Cheung/Tatler Hong Kong

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.

“Ever since Art Basel debuted in Hong Kong in 2013, its cultural landscape has been radically transforming,” the lauded artist explains. “Nowadays, exhibitions and galleries are ubiquitous, showcasing chef d’oeuvres of local and foreign artists while enthusiasts from all four corners of the world gather around in March to celebrate the Southeast Asian metropolis’s art month,” he says. Expressing his pride in the city’s flourishing art scene, he adds, “collectors of different ages and backgrounds are offered a plethora of options, ranging from traditional to contemporary to street art”.

Many artists love to move from place to place; Lau, however, opted to stay in his home town. “One of the reasons why I love Hong Kong is that its charm can hardly be defined,” he notes. “In arts, one could mix the three primary colours to create infinite tones. Likewise, the melange of oriental traditions and innovations renders Hong Kong a vibrant, fertile land for artistic creations.”

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Hong Kong’s Cultural Figures Share What They Love About The City

Julien Loïc-Garin

Best known for being the brains behind Le French May Art Festival, Julien Loïc-Garin founded Le Cerle, organising large-scale cultural events in between Asia and Europe. “While the city’s mindset is innovative and creative, it still keeps alive century-long artistic, culinary and architectural traditions, which makes it a fantastic city to live in and contribute to,” he says.

Maria Wong

Managing Director of HKWALLS, Maria Wong strives to help artists to reach global art scenes. “I love that Hong Kong offers so many possibilities and everyone is so connected and efficient,” she remarks, “we can bring a briliant idea to life within months, if not weeks, which gives us a lot of confidence and leverage when organising arts events”.

Daphne King-Yao

Daphne King-Yao took the helm of Alisan Fine Arts in 2011 which has been one of the biggest supporters of Chinese contemporary as well as new ink art since the 80s. “I love Hong Kong because of the diverse and exciting arts and cultural activities one can experience in this extremely compact city,” she says, “this constant transformation and Hong Kong’s positive, can-do attitude is what makes the city amazing”.

See also: Tatler Time Travel: Daphne King-Yao

Hilarie Hon

Hong Kong-based artist, Hilarie Hon is renowned for her use of bold, contrasting colours to depict turbulent inner worlds. “I love Hong Kong because I admire Hongkongers' creativity, bravery and sincerity in this ever-changing city,” she notes.

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