Michael Andrew Law is a Hong-Kongese artist. Today, he talks to us about his creative process and the stories behind his work:
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I normally wake up around 6 to 7 a.m. I make myself breakfast and make sure I absorb enough protein and carbohydrates to start my day. Then I surf the internet to check the news.
What inspires you to create every day?
Pop culture gives me inspiration. Pop culture is what’s happening around us right now: the celebrities’ photos we see on our phones, cartoons we watch, digital games we play, music we listen to. Music videos, professional wrestling, movies, American and Japanese animations, comics, all of these pop culture media gave me inspiration. I am also inspired by contemporary pop artists like Murakami Takashi and Kaws. I always love the idea of creating dialogue with pop culture and use my art as a medium to commentate these subject matters.
What does your work space look like?
I work at my studio home. I am just like Jack Nicholson – I like to stay at my cozy home. Working at my home is the most enjoyable thing in my life. I can focus on my work once I wake up. I create my works in my living room.
How would you describe the core of your technique or style?
I often start painting from one or multiple photographs or digital images that I found on the internet as references. I do my research online regarding the subject matters. Then I would figure out the composition and the placement of the subjects or objects in the painting using my computer. After that, I would use different techniques such as using giclee print, or a projector. Sometimes I use cutout collage, and transfer them onto the canvas. I rarely do drawing study before painting because I want to paint based on my feelings looking upon the canvas and stop painting when I feel like the painting is done.
I incorporate a lot of classical painting techniques in my paintings, because that’s where my training and I always see classical painting is my root as an artist, even though I don’t do much just classical painting.
My progress of painting is I will work on several layers to enrich the colour layering over the underpainting. Classical painting techniques means using different kinds of transparency and opaque colour pigment to build up the layers until the illusion of an image is created. Then I will combine these classical painting techniques with contemporary painting techniques such as screen print, stencil, spray, colours that were not used in ancient / old masters times, like holographic glitter, holographic pigment, metallic and fluorescent pigment. I also use dye and ink to create lines, dripping or splattering effects.
Many artists with classical painting training often despised crossover with a more modern or contemporary technique and vice versa, but I love to mix and match both techniques.
What are your top 3 studio essentials?
Most of the time I’d like listening to artist talks or art seminars on YouTube when I am painting. For instance, when I was painting the series of ‘Modern Day Roy Lichtenstein A.K.A Contemporary Pop Paintings’, I listened to Lichtenstein’s talks or seminars about his artworks. I would somewhat feel like Roy Lichtenstein entered my body when painting the series.When I met Jeff Koons and Mark Bradford, I told them I made a whole series of paintings listening to their artist talks. I said it’s like their presence in my studio when I made the respective painting series of mine.
Sometimes I would just put on an audiobook of any kind, if not, I would be listening to Heavy Metal or pop music. I normally play my drumsticks on pads in between with songs .
I also like looking at the artwork of the artist that I am trying to “steal” the idea or technique from on the internet before I paint.
How do you know or decide when an artwork is finished?
When I met Murakami Takashi and asked him the same question, he told me if I want to sell a painting for $10k, I need to make it look like it is at least going to be worth $100k. But of course I will know my painting is done when I feel like I would own this painting and feel happy to look at it in my living room for at least the next 10 years.
What do you like to do to unwind after a day’s work?
Actually I don’t believe in the concept of “after work”. To me, being an artist is not a 9 to 5 job. My brain is still thinking about creating my artwork and how to make it better even when long after I put down my brushes from normal working hours. I am not a person who likes to go out. Often if I am going out, it must be either I had to go to a show (gallery, cinema or concert), or to get something I couldn’t order and buy online; but I’d like to spend time with my family when I am not painting. We would watch Netflix and such. I also like to read books and art catalogs.
What’s your overall favorite aspect of the creative process?
I feel like I am like a scientist exploring things that people haven’t done or thought of before and make them possible. In terms of culture and art, my most favorite aspect would be there is no wrong answer in exploring art.
Tell us about the ideas behind some of your paintings.
I like painting subject matters that are either controversial in our time or that are timeless and have long lasting artistic or cultural value .
A lot of paintings in my series of ‘Bad Paintings Bad Painting / Good Art’ were inspired by paintings that were done by Andy Warhol. I did some research on Andy Warhol’s paintings and I took the original photos he used as references. I then found the original photos and painted and reinterpreted these images based on those photos my way, instead of just copying Andy Warhol’s paintings. For example, I used the photos that Andy Warhol used for my John Lennon and Elizabeth Taylor paintings. I reference the photographer who took the photos for the titles of my paintings. By doing so, I create multiple dialogues with Andy Warhol, these amazing photographers and Hollywood cultures as well as pop art .
And when I was painting it, I painted it the way Andy Warhol couldn’t and wouldn’t have done. I would imagine he would love my painting because I was painting it as Andy Warhol with some actual painting skills.
‘Modern Day Roy Lichtenstein A.K.A Contemporary Pop Paintings series’ is the extension of ‘Bad Paintings Bad Painting / Good Art’. I at first tried to paint with the visual of broken mirrors (see ‘Untitled (I Love Audrey Hepburn – Holly Golightly) II’ and ‘Untitled (I Love Marilyn Monroe)’) like reflective images from a shattered glass. However, I then discovered a more interesting visual of colourful tangrams with the goal of exploring pop culture images from the pieces of a tangram. For example, my Mona Lisa painting reflects what Mona Lisa looks like in pop culture. When I was painting it, I did use classical painting technique and it appears as a contemporary pop style image at the same time I reference Mona Lisa as pop culture.
I made a couple Bruce Lee paintings in different series. Bruce Lee is considered as a national hero to many Chinese people. However, to me Bruce Lee actually is an American actor. His product was selling an image of a Chinese national hero. I found that fascinating and hilarious since he is actually a total-american businessman, resulting in my Bruce Lee paintings – him as an American actor and director. Bruce performed as a Chinese national hero and a lot to Chinese brought it.
I also made a series of Bruce Lee with a female Hollywood celebrity based on another interesting observation to Chinese community which is dating a western woman is addressed as “paying off the national humiliation”. One painting is based on a movie stills from the 1972 film “Way of the Dragon” original scene depicted a young Hong Kong actress Nora Miao leaning into her protector Bruce Lee. I replaced Nora Miao and I painted the female as Hepburn, Monroe and Queen Elizabeth II. I found this series is so over the top.
In my painting of ‘Two Americans’, I used the scene of a Japanese runningdog challenging Bruce Lee in combat from the movie ‘Enter the Dragon’. I replaced the man challenging Bruce with the images of Donald Trump. Because I know people would have different feelings looking at it. I have no feelings towards either Donald Trump or Bruce Lee. Neither of them is my idol. I am just amused by seeing people’s reactions to this image simply according to their political views.
I painted ‘What If Julian Schnabel goes Pop Series’ because I like Julian Schnabel. He is the first and the only one inspired me to glue objects and paint words on my paintings. I always want to create a dialogue with art history, so through this series you can see a lot of art history elements. I was thinking of Julian Schnabel when painting this series. If Julian Schnabel would paint pop art, I believe it would probably look something like this.
I admire Julian Schnabel’s view in art and his art spirit. IF I were able to afford to commission a Julian Schnabel works, I probably expect he would make something like this. Of course it’s more a rhapsody than reality. He probably would never choose to make something like this (laugh).
I hope you get a better understanding of my paintings. You can find the stories behind my other series either on my Singulart Profile page or my website at michaelandrewlaw.com.
Why are most of your paintings portraits?
I find it more interesting and challenging to paint people, anime, something human-like rather than animals, still lifes or landscape. I just think people have more stories. To me painting is more like writing a novel. You can’t have a novel based on no people. I find animals, still life and landscape boring.
Another thing is I always think portraits or figure paintings in terms of technically speaking are more difficult and more complex to be done. An example is painting an apple or a bunch of flowers from life. If you get the basic drawing right, pay attention to light and shade, colours, even you can’t “copy” the exact information from the life objects you based on, it should look more or less like an apple or bunch of flowers.
But if you paint people’s faces, it’s a whole other realm, because we look at people’s faces everyday, including our own, so when we look at a portrait painting – even you do not know the subject, you are still immediately aware if there’s something wrong. Like whether the facial is symmetry or is in an incorrect perspective. Let’s say you know the subject, such as your relative or a very famous person. You also add a factor of likeness – that’s in the realm of “feeling”.
I find that’s the most fascinating and most challenging in portrait paintings. Besides portrait paintings, I will still choose abstract painting over animal, still life and landscape any day in the week.
For more paintings of Michael Andrew Law, go to his Singulart page here.