When IKEA revealed that their fourth annual Art Event would be sculptural in nature, it made sense that the contemporary artists they enlisted to design limited edition glass figurines mainly had backgrounds in designer toys. And while all eight of the artists involved have impressive pedigrees, few can claim to be as influential as Michael Lau, who contributed a redesigned rendition of his SoulToy concept for the collection.

A Brief History of Michael Lau and his SoulToy

Born in 1970 as 劉建文, or Lau Jian-Wen in his native Chinese, Hong Kong national Michael Lau received attention and acclaim for his exhibited paintings, but it was his design work that would initially reveal the artistry he’s become best known for. In 1997, five years after he’d graduated from the First Institute of Art and Design, Lau was enlisted to create the cover art for Anodize‘s Action Figures album, for which the artist made action figure interpretations of the band. Deciding to more thoroughly explore the toy as art concept, Lau’s crazysmiles solo exhibition in 1999 comprised of 101 handmade “action figure” art pieces displayed at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Considered a defining moment in the-then nascent designer toy art movement, the pieces Lau exhibited, collectively called Gardeners, would become a focus of his career, the concept being expanded upon and revisited by him ever since. But for his IKEA Art Event 2018 contribution, Lau decided to not depict one of his iconic Gardener characters but rather he reimagined a design he’d debuted at the first Toysoul festival in 2014. Titled SoulToy, this “original version has eight feet”, Lau explains, “as they represent the eight types of material [used] in toy production”, such as plush, tin, plastic, and wood. As for purpose behind this idea, Lau elaborates that SoulToy was meant “to illustrate that I consider every figurine work I create to be not just a toy”, he says, but also “no different from any piece of art”.

IKEA Art Event 2018: Michael Lau’s SoulToy

While the version Lau created with IKEA “has no feet because it wasn’t possible with certain technical limitations in glass production”, this new limited edition rendition still embodies the core of the character’s concept. “So the eyes and tongue of SoulToy subtly hint at the letters of the word ‘toy'”, according to Lau, “while the shape of the figure suggests the form of a ‘soul'” in a cartoonishly ghostly manner. Smartly opting for a completely transparent coloration, which Lau believes “can best illustrate the idea of ‘soul'”, this design ultimately conveys one of the artist’s sincere beliefs: “that there is soul within each piece of [my] work”.

For more information on Michael Lau:
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