Lau Chun Biography

"I am influenced by the changing panorama of nature," Lau says. "Nature has a lingering impact on me. My paintings are filled with emotion because I paint what I feel. My art captures the feeling of a scene; it’s not realistic, it’s not precise. So no matter what I do, it’s not possible for me to make a mistake!" Lau’s favorite medium is oil, which, he declares, "has more texture than acrylics. I keep laying one color over another, and this texture adds richness to my paintings." Some of his works contain as many as nine layers of paint, skillfully blended into visual sequences alive with movement and romance. As one writer states, Lau’s paintings "invite us to dream."  

Still youthful-looking, Lau was born in Kiangsi, China, north of Canton. The oldest of seven children, he exhibited a talent in art at an early age that was encouraged by his teachers. "Maybe it was inference," he says modestly. "If the teachers keep saying you’re a good artist, then you really start thinking you’re good."

After high school, Lau attended the Canton School of Fine Arts, where he says he "studied the more traditional, classical way of drawing, using models and still lifes. In China at that time - the sixties - art students were required first to study drawing for three years. You couldn’t do anything else, like work with oils or sculpture, until you graduated from drawing; you had to build your foundation first. I never worked with color until I went to Hong Kong."

There, Lau took a job as an assistant to a mural artist. "Most of our work was for churches," he recalls. "I would help create religious designs and enlarge them. Some of the murals were huge - covering entire walls."

Creating ecclesiastical murals introduced Lau to the intricate technique of mosaic. "The materials we used were colored glass tiles from Italy, cut very small. It was detail work. I got the chance to train my eye to do close work that was actually intended to be viewed from far away. For example, I would mix blue and red tiles together in a section. They would look very busy up close, but when you stood back 100 feet, all you saw was a nice purple color."

Lau studied with the mural artist for eight years, developing his eye for composition and a sensitivity to color. His work with mosaics, he contends, greatly influenced the artistic style for which he is so well-known today. "People say when you look at my oil paintings up close, all you see is a busy mix of color, but when you stand back and look at them, they blend together into something that’s rich and three-dimensional."

A turning point in Lau’s career came in 1969 when he received a grant from the ReVox Corporation, a major manufacturer of sound equipment in Switzerland. "Their intent was to provide one artist in Asia with a two-year grant. I was very lucky to have been chosen. I spent most of those two years in Japan, visiting museums and artists in their studios."

Just as the grant was about to expire, Lau received an invitation from Mr. and Mrs. James Raker, respected Hawaii art dealers, to exhibit his work in the United States. The first stop was Hawaii, where, stepping off the plane, the young Chinese artist was mesmerized by the "perfect weather, the dramatic light, the fabulous colors." The show then took Lau to New Orleans, Dallas, Chicago and New York, but as soon as he could, he was back in Hawaii.

That was in 1972, and with the exception of a six-month stay in Dallas to complete several commissions, Hawaii has been Lau’s home ever since. There’s no question he has made his mark in the local art community. In addition to being sought after by art connoisseurs, his work is included in the collections of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, such prestigious corporations as Alexander and Baldwin, and numerous luxury resorts.

A hectic work schedule allows Lau to visit the galleries only once a month. His days begin at 4:00 a.m. in the spacious studio of his Portlock home, and he often ends up spending ten to twelve hours at the easel. A sliding door opens to a lanai and spectacular views of Diamond Head, Koko Marina and the rolling blue Pacific. Even in late morning, the studio is cool, quiet. Everywhere is evidence of a creative mind at work-art books are scattered on tables and shelves all around the room, brushes and tubes of paint lie near a yet-to-be-completed canvas, finished paintings are neatly stacked against one wall.

Tacked onto a large bulletin board next to Lau’s easel is a montage of striking images-a brilliantly colored garden, ducks parading down a river bank, a girl on horseback, children playing in a boat, a pot of flowers. "I take photographs and tear out magazine pictures for reference," Lau explains. "If I put the pictures on the board, there’s a reason I like them, whether it’s for their composition or color or their nice mood. Every time I come home from a trip, I put something new up there."

Once a year, usually during the summer, Lau travels for a full month to get fresh inspiration for his paintings. The tranquil tea gardens in Japan have stirred his imagination, as have the breathtaking mountain regions of Scandinavia. He has combed the United States from east to west; his most recent trips were to California, Michigan, Minnesota and Kansas.

"When I’m traveling, I wake up early in the morning," Lau says. "I either walk, get a bicycle or rent a car and drive around. I don’t really plan exactly what I’m going to do. Each day is a day of discovery. I look for a pleasant, everyday scene. It doesn’t necessarily have to be big or famous. For instance, a few years ago, I went to the Grand Canyon. It’s beautiful, but every place there looks like a postcard. Everybody recognizes it. I prefer some little corner that people can’t exactly pinpoint, but that seems familiar, that looks like their neighborhood. That’s my philosophy-to find scenes people can relate to, that are pretty but not necessarily popular."

From the wealth of ideas, drawings and photos that Lau brings back is born a treasure trove of new paintings. He produces perhaps forty works a year, with price tags ranging from $2,500 to $60,000. The paintings are unveiled at four one-man exhibitions Lau stages each year - two on the Mainland, usually in California and Michigan, one on the Big Island and one on Maui (Lahaina Galleries). He’s hoping to be able to take more exhibits to Japan, where last November he enjoyed tremendous success.

"I brought eighteen scenes of Northern America which were shown at the Exhibition Hall of the Horiuchi Corporation in Tokyo," Lau recalls. "They all sold on the first day! Some people wanted to buy two or three, but the officials wouldn’t allow that. They were telling people, ‘You can buy only one painting because there are so many others who want them.’ Isn’t that amazing?"

"For me, the most rewarding thing is when people come to me at a show and tell me I do beautiful work. To actually hear somebody say they appreciate my work is so satisfying; it makes me feel proud and happy."

Lau strongly believes it’s not good for artists to achieve great success too early. "If they do that, they cover their heads and are afraid to change because they think they’ve already reached the peak of their careers. As for me, I’m constantly evolving. I used to like subtle colors, earth tones. Then I got into a little more greens. Now I’m wild - pink, red, orange. When people come to my studio, I like to show them how my work has changed. Then they know I’m an artist who likes to keep experimenting. I’m not going to be the same forever."

Does Lau have a favorite painting? "There are some I’m really fond of," he admits, "but none I will never sell because I don’t believe an artist should keep paintings for himself. If you keep a painting for yourself, you keep looking back and may be afraid to change-‘Oh, look at what I did. I’m already as good as I can be.’ So I let them go. I’d rather keep paintings I like in my mind instead of actually having them. That way, I can always try to make them better."