It is no exaggeration to say that Michael Lau, who creates artworks in the guise of toys, looms exceedingly large over the Hong Kong art and collectible scene. In his book How Japanese Toys Conquered the World, Woodrow Phoenix dubs Lau “a gigantic force” in this subculture, calling the impact of the sculptures based on his “Gardener” characters “immediate and immense.” No less than the New York Times described his figurines as “sharply observed [and] exuberantly imaginative.”

After getting his start as a window display designer, “the godfather of toy figures,” as he has often been called, began to show at Hong Kong galleries, later becoming known for the “Gardener” comic strip in East Touch magazine, whose characters he later immortalized in his famous collectible vinyl figurines, which the Sony Corporation distributed in Asia. Lau combines references to toys like G.I. Joe (a toy that was hugely popular in Lau’s 1970s childhood in his home city) with artworks by historical and contemporary artists like David Hockney and Leonardo da Vinci. Referring to the latter’s Salvator Mundi, which fetched $450 million at auction, he has created a figure called Salvator Michael, indicating his bold ambition.

“Normal is boring,” says Lau in this video, in which he proclaims his love for Hong Kong in all its messiness. Why stay in such a challenging home? Artists need struggle, he says, not comfort.