Affa Chan, courtesy of Tatler Hong Kong

After graduating from the First Institute of Art and Design in Hong Kong in 1992, Michael held his first solo painting exhibition at the Pao Galleries of the Hong Kong Arts Centre in the following year. In 1999, the prolific graphic designer lent his creativity to action figure design and created the “Gardener” series that juxtaposed his favourite G.I. Joe actio figures and street culture. A total of 99 12-inch action figures were featured in his solo exhibition held at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. His passion for figure creation and remarkable achievements garnered global attention and brought him the opportunity to showcase his works in different cities in Japan, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, London and Paris, leading the global trend of collectible designer toys as an independent designer.

Additionally, Michael Lau has been seen as the godfather of urban vinyl, being largely recognised as the pioneer who launched the trend in the 90s. He was prominently featured in the article “20 Trends Sweeping the Globe” by Forbes Magazine in the January 08 issue.

- Michael Lau

The notion that ‘all art are toys’ can be understood from the perspective that many collectors view their pursuit as a game. Yet to justify the concept that “all toys are art” one must re-examine Michael Lau’s creative career, and his role in the creation of a collectible toy culture that led to the development of a new urban vinyl trend within the art toy movement. Michael Lau is widely known as the ‘Godfather of Designer Toy', since exhibiting a series of 99 original 12-inch action figures at the Hong Kong Art Centre in 1999. This show, entitled “Gardener,” overturned public conceptions of toy as a mass-produced, low-cost, low-quality product, and instead positioned toys as limited-edition art objects. Gardener series was unlike commercial action figures such as G.I. JOE toys, that rely on backing from major commercial entities and mass-produced comics and movies for branding. Each Gardener represents Michael’s thoughts about life and the world around him, and from concept to prototype to finished product, every character was produced at his own studio rather than in a factory. Most importantly, in the spirit of an artist, Michael meticulously handcrafted all of the figures himself, encouraging toy aficionados to appreciate each object’s value as art objects, and establishing them as “ARTOY”. Since 2000, Gardener has inspired numerous designers and artists around the world to design their own figures, impacting Asian culture as well as international movements. As a pioneer of the vinyl art toy movement, Michael’s influence has extended beyond the realm of toys into the art world, and brought about a new phenomenon in the collecting culture.

Michael believes that a meaningful collection should not be assessed based on its monetary value, but should more importantly evoke feelings of nostalgia and sentiment. A prized collection allows one to delve into memories of the past, provides consolation in times of emptiness, and enriches and elevates the spirit. Michael believes that in the eyes of the collector, objects – whether they be paintings, jewelry, watches, sneakers, or furniture – have an ability to provide emotional value, in the same way that toys can provoke wonder and curiosity.