According to artist Michael Lau, his newest solo showcase, CARH-ART-T: Work In Exhibition – PlayWork (2017), is centered around “the concept of the relationship between work and play.” As he explains it, “When you are passionate about something that you enjoy doing as a pastime, play becomes almost like work — or, eventually, it will really turn into work because you just become so professional about it. When you enjoy what you do, however, work becomes like play.” But, for the audience, this exhibition almost serves as a career spanning commentary, which of course requires an understanding of Lau’s artistic growth and direction.

A Brief History of Michael Lau

This Hong Kong-based artist’s visual voice took a decided turn in 1996 with a selection of acrylic paintings known collectively as watergarden. First seen at the A Taste for Art Festival and later permanently displayed at Cornwall House – Taikoo Place, these were portraits of creative people reflected in water, the distorted aspects through the liquid’s refraction symbolizing how they saw the world differently. And, to Lau, these artistic souls who nurtured expression and experimentation became known as “Gardeners”.

Building upon this concept, Lau began constructing 101 Gardener pieces in 1998. Using 1/6th scale action figure bodies, Lau augmented them with unique, hand-sculpted heads and handsewn clothing that represented urban lifestyles, especially hip-hop, graffiti, and skateboarder countercultures. Eschewing the stereotypes of the time, all of Lau’s Gardener creations had purely positive skews, with none of these “characters” being depicted imbibing in drug use, including alcohol and cigarettes, or having violent attitudes.
Michael Lau's Gardener #001: Maxx at crazysmiles, 1999
And even though all 101 pieces would be displayed as the crazysmiles exhibition at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1999, the true starting point of the Gardener figure series is generally accepted to be the first figure in the line, the above-pictured Maxx.

Images from CARH-ART-T: Work In Exhibition – PlayWork

Lau’s CARH-ART-T: Work In Exhibition – PlayWork showcases thirty-three pieces of artwork that trace his character Maxx’s growth process artistically, from his initial “play” explorations as a child and youth to his eventual “work” life as a career artist. Mirroring Lau’s own life and its progression, the majority of this evolution is revealed through hand-decorated skateboard decks, each one revealing Maxx at a different age and exploring what his interaction with art was at the time.

Gardener Says Work Is Over pieces for CARH-ART-T: Work In Exhibition – PlayWork

But to truly bring things full circle within Lau’s own career, he created a two-piece series titled Gardener Says Work Is Over (2017) for the exhibition. Comprised of StreetMaxx and WorkMaxx, depicting the Maxx character at 16-years-old as well as at 33, both are adorned in exhibition partner Carhartt Work in Progress‘ apparel.

StreetMaxx

When the original Maxx figure premiered, the proficient skateboarder was an 18-year-old man who was a design assistant that dreamed of one day being a fine artist, which reflected Lau’s own post-school occupation as an advertising and merchandise designer. StreetMaxx doesn’t quite revisit this version, but rather reveals the character as a boy at the age of 16. And, at this point in his life, Maxx is torn between pursuing his own dreams and satisifying his family’s expectations, a struggle that Lau himself most likely undertook. Of course, as a child of the ’90s with a penchant for loose street clothing, StreetMaxx is attired in a hoodie with camo shorts.

WorkMaxx

The second figure, WorkMaxx, reveals that Maxx has realized his dreams. At 33, he’s a professional artist, using “his craft to express his ideology.” Wearing the same retro American style that Lau enjoys now, as well as his mustached appearance, this exhibition appears to recast the Maxx character as an autobiographical rendition of the artist. Of course, maybe it always was.

Mini Skateboards

As an added bonus, with both StreetMaxx and WorkMaxx figures available in limited quantities, the first fifty people to purchase these pieces at the event received autographed mini skateboards adorned with text regarding the exhibition.

Lau’s CARH-ART-T: Work In Exhibition – PlayWork had its opening reception on Friday, March 24th, with all works in this exhibition will remain on display until April 12th, 2017 at I.T Hysan One‘s physical location (B2 & 1/F, 1 Hysan Ave, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong).

For more information on Michael Lau:
website | website (fan) | instagram

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