All about Michael and Gardenergala

Michael Lau is an award-winning, Hong Kong-based artist who has captured the attention of artists, designers, musicians, toy manufacturers and street culture the world over.

Michael graduated from the Design First Institute in 1992. He worked as a painter, having some work featured in galleries around Hong Kong. Michael eventually moved on to window display designer and advertising. In 1997 he did his first 3D work on the cover of the Anodize music album. Previously his figure work was only seen by his friends and never put out for display. In 1998 Michael began the Gardner comic strip in East Touch magazine. Eventually all of the characters he illustrated became figures.

His primary medium now is the 12" figure. All of the bodies, clothes, accessories and heads are handmade by Michael. He has featured kids, basketball players, graffiti artists, rappers, dj's, skateboarders, snowboarders and wakeboarders in his collections. Their clothes reflective of many of the top brands in those fields. I.E. His skateboarders wear shoes by DC and clothes by Alphanumeric. His snowboarders ride Burton snowboards. Some even wear very trendy fashions from Bathing Ape, Maharishi, Saru and Zero Nine.

portrait of Michael Lau

There is an understanding of the culture and detail in every figure he has created. His unique approach to the figures, especially the Gardenergala series, comes from an idea. What if the kids living in the Gardenergala universe live their own lives? The figures are free to develop relationships, get married, go to work, move out of town and allow new members to be introduced, etc... Starting with 101 Gardeners, in development since 1998, Michael hopes to continue the Gardener Universe growing. (in 2003 Michael had introduced Gardener 103) In addition to creating a universe around his figures Michael is adamant about what they represent. In Michael's words about the Gardenergala figures:

Michael himself is another character in the Gardenergala universe

"What is the lifestyle of nowadays?

You can find it at Gardenergala.

What is the current trend of street culture?

You can find it in Gardenergala.

No booze, No smoke, No drug

That's Gardenergala.

We, a group of young people, are living nowadays.

We are living in our own world, with our own culture.

We are living under the blue sky.

We belong to nowhere and going on our way.

We are the real people and we smile crazily.

And we have 101 different stories."

Above is one of Michael's paintings from the Watergarden exhibition in 1996.

The name Gardenergala has it's roots in one of Michael's earliest exhibitions. As an accomplished painter and illustrator Michael created a series of paintings around the reflective quality of water and the people that played in and around the water.

Water suspends elements, reflects, refracts and distorts images. The people who are carefree and enjoy creating and experimenting are known as "Gardeners". If you combine the effects of water to the creative process and the creative people then you have an explosion of life, energy and art. The Watergarden exhibition tries to convey the many ideas behind the label Gardener.

Michael took the Gardener concept and made it three-dimensional with his figure work. He adopted the name Gardener from Watergarden and combined it with "Gala" as in celebration, exhibition of life despite criticism and change.

Michael's figures have been featured in the Crazy Smiles, Gardenergala and Lazymuthafucka (Gardener vs LMF) productions at galleries in Japan, Hong Kong, London and New York.

Michael captures the look of global street and (true) Hip Hop culture. Whether it is skateboarding, dee jay-ing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, playing basketball or just hanging out, his figures look exactly like kids that you may know. According to Michael this was part of his original goal. Their faces, looks and attitude are right from real life.

The Gardenergala figures capture youth culture better than any photo, illustration or magazine article I've ever seen. They are physical manifestations of cultural ideals. If you were to study the figures you'd notice little details that add up to an understanding of the culture he's trying to convey.

As you can see by "Box D" on the right Michael is great at capturing the look of real skaters and kids today. Of course that is without the box for a head.

Michael knows and respects skateboarding as a whole and certainly knows its history. Take a look at the skull and snake graphic on the skate deck. "Old school" skateboarders would recognize that graphic as Mike McGill's original graphic for Powell Peralta, designed by Vernon Courtlandt Johnson. One of the most revolutionary skateboard graphic artists from the early 80's. But instead of being the original skull and snake Michael has chosen to characterize the skull with his own.

The Gardeners themselves aren't stuck in the past but also feature skaters with modern decks skating contemporary street.

Box D above is an example of the typical street skater in the Gardenergala world.

The original Maxx pictured in an original Gardenergala box.

Michael's first venture into the Gardenergala world came with his original Maxx figure (circa 1998) pictured left. Michael went to the trouble of making a custom box for Maxx. Green felt simulating grass is on the floor of the box. The boxes even featured hand-drawn graphics and a plastic window.

You can also see that the figure included a skateboard and a bag (for a change of clothes). Most figures even came with a sticker sheet or comic strip.

The number 5 on the front signifies which model of Maxx he is. When Michael sold his Gardeners at toy shows and boutiques there were 10 copies per character (Maxx, Miss, Brian, Tatto and Uncle) each in a numbered box. Each copy had a unique element, such as different clothes or shoes. The figures were sold to galleries, close friends and private collectors. The number on the boxes was also a play on "selling out" the Gardener figures as if the series was going to be mass produced.

For the record there are only a handful of original Gardeners in the world. Do not be fooled by imitators or pirated figures that you might see pop up in online auctions or stores.

If you are interested in getting one of Michael's actual 12" creations be prepared to do some serious hunting. The cost of a 12" figure is in the neighborhood of $4,000 to $10,000. This price varies given the condition of the figure, condition of the box. Or if it even comes with a box, accessories and autograph.

A little after the gardeners first appeared in 1998 Michael was asked to produce some art for the Neatnik exhibition as part of a product launch from watch manufacturer Seiko in Japan.

To read an article all about the Neatnik figures please visit Strangeco. The images and original story (in Japanese) are courtesy of Gardenercrazys.

Pre-1998 Michael did make and sell a handful of his 12" creations at gallery openings and special projects for toy companies.

The figures featured custom clothes and a custom head on top of a generic figure body, like that of a 12" GI Joe. Although these figures are not considered Gardenergala figures, they are still referred to as Happy Gardeners.

To the right you can see that Michael's eye for design and detail was evident in the pre-gardener figures that exist outside of Michael's studio.

Michael's original Gardener series was known as the 101" series. Michael produced 101 figures and it remained that way for a couple of years. In the summer of 2002 at the Agnes B. Art Gallery in Paris Michael presented his 102" Gardener AKA Hardy 102".

This Gardener is based on Hardy Blechman, who is better known in fashion and culture circles as the creative director of Maharishi (MHI for short). Hardy is a traveler, author, spiritualist and fashion pioneer. His clothing has been worn by the likes of Madonna, Brad Pitt and Janet Jackson.

Maharishi serves as one of the pioneers of functional clothing for street culture. Many labels are caught up with the hype of being the most popular or expensive clothes, but the Maharishi wear is durable, stylish, functional and made in India.

Hardy has granted interviews on various topics to web pages and the occasional author. His fresh approach to spiritual beliefs and fashion has no doubt rubbed off on Michael. This explains why Gardener 102" was presented upside down in one of the meditative poses that Hardy has been photographed in. The real Hardy is the one on the far left.

The influence with Maharishi did not end with the Agnes B. Art Gallery. Instead MHI brough Michael over to England and eventually exposed him to all of Europe with further exhibitions in London and Paris.

Michael premiered Gardener 103" better known as No War (far right) at the Blink gallery in London, March 2003. This presentation was made at about the time the United States and several other nations were about to invade Iraq.

Maharishi helped design the clothes and accessories for the premier of the limited-edition 6-inch NY Fat (immediate right) which was also featured at the London exhibition.

Note for collectors: The olive green, camo and plaid color schemes are an MHI trademark. In the June 2003 Colette Paris show, NY Fat and the Michael Lau mini fig were featured in a baby blue tint. Baby blue is the Colette's house color. To see collaborations between Michael and other artists you can visit the Crossover Projects page.

NY Fat was re-released at the August 2003 Toycon with a limited edition paint scheme reflecting the actual colors of a Krylon paint can.

Thanks to Damian with Maharishi for securing me a mini figure!

Michael's studio is filled with many things, including Gardener and other figure prototypes. Michael also has a collection of figures and other artists work that have influenced him.

It is difficult to see on this picture but there are plastic figures from Japan on his shelf alongside Playmobil figures and a statue created by UK comic artist Simon Bisley. It is also interesting to note that Michael surrounds his space with other influences like skateboards and bmx bikes.

One of the neat things occupying space in his studio is a life-size replica of Lam Dog, NY Thin and Brian. You can see them on the left. Of course NY Thin and Brian are always wearing the latest clothing and shoes, but in both cases they are accurate for the lifestyle they represent.

This picture of Michael's studio is relatively organized compared to the chaotic mess of plastic, sculpting tools and clay on his actual drawing table.

Be sure and notice the small Lam Dog hanging from the chain on Brian's pocket as well as the Gardenergala skateboard in the background.

Below and to the right is a scan of one of Michael's comics. The Gardenergala comic strips appeared mostly in the cutting-edge Hong Kong fashion and street culture magazine East Touch. A reprint of East Touch magazine with Jan Lam on the cover is immediate right.

As you can see Michael mixed his mediums and used both drawings and photographs of his figures in the strips.

The people at East Touch magazine have gone on to influence Michael's work and he has released a figure based on an actual writer for East Touch named Meter Chen. You can see Meter in the Crazy Children page.

The success and popularity of Michael's figures have gained the attention of huge companies like and Sony. In fact Sony bought the Gardenergala license a couple of years ago for Japan. You would think that Sony would have cashed in their investment and slapped Gardenergala faces on every imaginable product, but the opposite is in fact true.

Sony understands the brand that Gardenergala represents and they are trying to keep it underground. This not only protects the original artistic vision but also helps build brand recognition and a respectable reputation. So products with the Gardenergala name were few and far between during the original Japanese exhibitions in 2001. There were a few posters, tee shirts, a CD-Rom, a credit card and four 6" Gardeners made in at least one hue (original color, "Lazy" (black and white) and gray-tone) during the gallery presentations.

At the end of the Japanese presentations Michael published a book of his work with full-size picture reproductions of all the Gardeners. This box came packed with a 6" Maxx (first time available) and a CD-Rom. The only other license that featured the Gardener figures were a series of collectible sports drink bottles from Japan by Calpis (pictured left). There was a lottery in Japan for people that collected winning caps from the bottles, they won five 3", limited edition Gardenergala figures.

Some of the Gardeners are real!

Michael has based more than one Gardener on close friends and influential people in street culture and art.

For example Womax, Gardener 77" immediate right, is based on the founder of MoWax records, James Lavelle, seen on the far right.

MoWax eventually got into art and fashion and has been pretty successful and influential in street culture.

Future, Gardener 76", on the far left is most likely based on the artist Futura and not the graffiti artist also named Future.

Aly, Gardener 54", second from far left, is based on one of the designers and founders of Fiberops named Aly.

Jan, Gardener 75", third from far left, is based on Jan Lam, actor, singer and director.

Hardy 102" of course is based on Hardy Blechman the founder of Maharishi.

Several members of the LMF band are also the basis for some of the original Gardener figures.

From left to right: Lazy Yan, Gardener 67", Lazy XXX, Gardener 68" and Lazy DJ Tommy, Gardener 68".

In 2003 the band released "Finalazy Muthafucka" and this statement: "It will be the last EP until further notice. The band will be temporarily put on hold while members work on other projects."

Michael Jordan is most likely the inspiration for Jordon, Gardener 49". The Nike Air Jordan shoes have become a global phenomenon and a status symbol for street, Hip Hop and basketball culture.

Michael Lau recognizes this and often presents Jordon in the Gardener Exhibitions by including many different models and color schemes of the Jordan Brand shoes around the character.

Jordon image courtesy of Gardenercrazys.

The Gardeners added for the 10th Anniversary

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the original Gardener show Michael introduced the world to four new Gardeners, each inspired by real people.

Gardeners 107 (Sandy) and 107.5 (George) were based on Sandy Bodecker and his son George. Sandy works for Nike and he and Michael have collaborated on a number of projects for Nike skateboarding (SB), football and the BMX team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The real Sandy and George are located below on the left and right respectively. Michael and his wife Florance are standing between them.

Photograph courtesy of Victor with

Meet Zex and Hope

The two other Gardeners introduced for the 10th Anniversary show were 108 (Zex) and 109 (Hope). These figures were inspired by photographer Terry Richardson and the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

While the two men may seem like opposites, it turns out that they know each other. Terry photographed Obama while he was on the campaign trail. It would only make sense that the iconoclasts would be released one after the other.

The red and blue color of Hope was inspired by the Shepard Fairey illustration of Obama. The poster image was made famous while Obama was running for the presidency. Michael created a caricature version for the poster for the 10th Anniversary.

Click on Michael's back to go to the News page.

Click on Michael to go and meet the Gardeners.

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