Época & Era

     The latest series of paintings by Manuel Lau offer colourful puzzles in sharp contrast to his earlier, black-and white, highly stylized works.

     Colour is now a major player but it is still kept in check by the artist’s intuitive placement of tones and textures. Painting in oil directly onto a canvas glued to a board, Lau allows the texture of the wood to provide the initial grid for the collage like applications of forms and colour.

     There are in fact two series in the latest exhibition of Lau’s paintings at Han Art gallery in Montreal. The title of the show is Época & Era, with Época represented by dense compositions composed of squares and stylized yet clearly recognizable forms like a bird’s head, a glove, a bowl, a donkey. Lau’s signature shape from his earlier series, a bicycle, appears in the corner of one work.

     Era is like a postcard from another realm altogether. Sparse, light, with paintings resembling a white beach with odd shapes scattered on it. The texture of the background is difficult to describe, pockmarked as it were, with paint lifted off the canvas as if by fingernails, while the loosely painted shapes floating above it.

     The originality of Lau’s vision is always at the forefront of any discussion of his work. With a rich ethnic and cultural background, this highly intelligent young man has created his very own visual vocabulary that unites the many diverse elements that weave through his art and life.

     His form of syncretism combines the many influences —Lau was born in Peru, to Chinese parents—that form the tapestry of his art. For placed together, especially the Época paintings, they would form one giant mural, a mega puzzle where squares can be shuffled around (in one’s mind, of course), and have been by the artist, to achieve a satisfactory effect.

     There are no visible borders, the shapes touch, overlap, mingle in a gentle, almost imperceptible movement. In Época VI, the heads of the bird and a couple of donkeys all face towards the left, forcing the viewer to follow, becoming part of the strange grouping. Among the heads, the gloves and bowls, float completely abstracted forms, all painted with the same brush so to speak, never alienated from one another.

     Deceptively child like, these paintings are in fact some of the best contemporary works this critic has seen. Unobtrusively elegant, they appeal to the everyman as much as to the connoisseur of art, the many layers of meaning that imbue them offer endless reading.

     The colours have come onto the scene just as gently, never jarring, with pastel hues and warm orange touches. A red glove in one of the squares is simply exquisite.

     A very different aura envelops the Era paintings. So light as to almost lift off, they provoke a kind of dance of the eyes, as one tries to take in the tableau. Like some underwater creatures, with half of a watermelon for a surreal touch, forms float loosely in every direction, never touching yet never so apart as to break the composition.

     In Era V, gone are the watermelon and the large crab, and a stylized head, a bottle and some vegetables have now joined the fish. But really, does it matter? The need to identify is very human, but often stands in the way of appreciating life, and art. After trying to decipher Manuel Lau’s visual tales, it’s best to just stand back and take them in. His works have a wonderful energy, and are a positive, inspiring invitation to art, a rare occurrence in the world of contemporary and conceptual works.


Dorota Kozinska