Mestizo: The hybrid world of Manuel Lau

            Métissage this word of socio-historical origins has seeped into the cultural vernacular, in this world of many peoples. In Quebec, where Manuel Lau decided to reside, that term resonates stronger than elsewhere, and his art has found an instant echo in its artistic milieu.

            Born in Peru to Chinese parents, Manuel Lau has seen his art exhibited around the world, sanctioned with accolades, both literary and in the form of awards and grants.

            The interweaving of cultures is but the first reading of Lau’s versatile, complex compositions. The colour leads the way, bold, undiluted, naked in its innocent extravagance, the blue, the turquoise, the warm red, offering itself to the eye with all the generosity of a tropical fruit.

            When the vibrant hues’ visual impact begins to ebb, forms emerge like players onto a stage: llamas and dogs, and men in hats over a game of dominoes.

            The folkloric aspect, the deliberate naiveté in the execution of the shapes, the cultural context, these are the elements that compose Lau’s visual lexicon. They confuse and delight with their mix of symbolism, the magical-realism of the Latin influence, combined with an Eastern sensibility that contains the energy that aches to explode.

            With a touch of humour and an enormous dose of creative independence, Lau produces art in series that, albeit recognizable as the work of one artist, compose a unique storyboard each time.

            His earlier works relied on a narrative continuity that in his recent years has been stripped to the very essential, including the almost complete exclusion of colour, once a major component of the composition.

            Totemic, at times three-dimensional, Lau’s large mixed media pieces defy classification. Verging on outsider art, works like  Llama and Perro present joyful yet oddly disturbing personages, their bodies made of myriad found objects like plastic straws or bits of wire. But it is the painterly aspect, the bones of these pieces that give away the artist’s maturity and instinctual, intuitive understanding of the pictorial. Something fetishist hides behind some of the large format works, an atavistic pull towards shapes and forms that seem to spring from the unconscious, and regardless of culture, resonate with the viewer.

            From red dogs and red cats to Le chiens vagabonds, Lau’s series accompany the artist’s own peripatetic history. It has culminated, for the time being, in the latest series of prints that are the quintessence of all his previous creative endeavours, and a visual pause before the next chapter in this prolific artist’s career.

            Choosing the tactile, rather new, (invented in the 1930s), printing technique called carborundum, Lau has given full rein to its potential, creating works marked by their gestural spontaneity. His mastery of the medium is manifested by the deceptive simplicity of these black and white compositions, with dancing, gesticulating human and animal beings. In Lau’s application of the carborundum printmaking, the edges are smeared, the drawings dense, featureless, with silhouettes in motion, resembling strange shamanic symbols in playful, enigmatic configurations.

            Manuel Lau’s art is boldly avant-garde, and subtly very, very ancient.


Dorota Kozinska