Citation for Doctor Dr. VAN Lau


HKSYU The 39th Graduation Ceremony Citation

Dr. VAN Lau, BBS   Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

[ A citation written by Professor Leung Tin Wai and Dr. Wong Chung Ming and translated by Dr. Kung Chi Keung ]

Dr. VAN Lau is one of Hong Kong’s most illustrious contemporary Chinese artists.
Dr. VAN Lau embodies a true aesthetic synthesis that is at the heart of his unique
genius. Steeped in traditional Chinese literary scholarship, he has nevertheless also
been a constant champion of innovation, seeking cultural and artistic synthesis
of the best of Chinese and Western, ancient and modern. His outstanding artistic
achievements have earned him the highest praise both in Hong Kong and internationally.

Dr. VAN Lau was born in 1933 in Xinhui, Guangdong province. When he was
two years old, he moved with his family to Vietnam, where he completed his primary
and secondary education. He then went to Taiwan to undertake his university studies in philosophy, architecture and painting. These areas of knowledge formed the foundation for his development as a sculptor. Settling in Hong Kong after graduation, he soon became a leading figure in the local cultural and arts scene, involved in publishing, founding art clubs and organizing exhibitions. In the 1960s, he went to the United States to further his studies, an experience that helped broaden his horizons and deepen his intellectual understanding. He became determined to embark on a new path in his artistic development, one which would allow him to move freely across the borders between Eastern and Western culture, and traditional and modern art.

This new path became the means for the development of Dr. VAN Lau’s concept
of modern “literati sculpture”. For him, sculpture can be divided into two basic
categories: “environmental sculpture” and “creative sculpture”. Dr. VAN Lau’s body
of work belongs to the category of “creative sculpture”. In his creative process, he is
not affected by the constraints of the environment, nor does he allow any additional
conditions of his patrons, viewers or subjects of his creation to influence his artistic
conception. Instead, he chooses to create with total freedom. Indeed, this freedom
of creation and expression constitutes the basis of what he calls “literati sculpture”.

One of the greatest legacies of the Chinese artistic tradition is the genre known
as “literati painting”. The uniqueness and brilliance of literati painting lie in its organic interweaving of the “three perfections” of poetry, calligraphy and painting. In literati painting the composition is imbued with the quality of “spirit resonance” where form and idea are expressed as one. This kind of artistic conception is radically different from that of the Western painting tradition, which, in line with its concept of artistic ontology, places emphasis on likeness of form, and strives for the re-presentation of the subject. Dr. VAN Lau is a person of profound erudition, not only in the field of aesthetics, but in philosophy and literature as well. His deep respect for and understanding of Chinese traditional culture gives his art its special appeal of being infused with a deeply Eastern flavor within a contemporary language. In creating an aesthetic bridge from “literati painting” to his own form of “literati sculpture”, Dr. VAN Lau has won widespread praise and recognition for his unique and brilliant achievements.

An outstanding aspect of Dr. VAN Lau’s artistry is that he not only conceives the
ideas for his sculptures, he is also personally involved in every step of the execution.
Unlike many modern sculptors who tend to rely on the skills of craftsmen to finish
the work for them, Dr. VAN Lau’s knowledge and expertise in metal casting is as high
as any master craftsman’s. Throughout his creative life, he has delved into chemical
engineering and studied the technology of metal welding. He applies the skills he
acquired in those fields to each of his works. He strongly believes that in order to fully articulate the artistic conception of his work, a sculptor must master these techniques himself rather than relying on a craftsman to complete his work. Hence, his sculpture is not only imbued with a “literati language”, but also a “technological language”. His works are truly masterpieces that bear witness to the integration of these two languages.

Truly a polyglot, Dr. VAN Lau is fluent in Vietnamese, French and English, as
well as Cantonese and Putonghua. He has travelled far and wide to explore the
developmental path taken by Western culture, visiting countries as diverse as Egypt,
Greece, Italy and France. Since mainland China’s opening up, he has travelled to
every corner of the country and investigated the culture and art of every region in order to trace the cultural history and development of the Chinese people. Yet, significantly, he ultimately chose Hong Kong as his permanent home. He deeply understands that the long history and educational influence of colonial rule has left deep marks on the city’s residents, whose cultural life, political and religious beliefs as well as ideology have been to some degree displaced by “Western values” at the expense of traditional Chinese culture. There are local art practitioners who flirt with different foreign styles and indiscriminately follow or simply mimic them to form an “eclectic culture” with no true originality.

Nevertheless, against the background of Hong Kong’s long development within a
special time and space, in which political openness, economic freedom and flourishing cultural thought have become the city’s hallmarks, Dr. VAN Lau has promoted the idea of the “Hong Kong School” of artistic endeavor. It is under these conditions that the “Hong Kong School” forges ahead. Its artistic style can be understood in terms of two key concepts:

First, it is a new artistic style using the spirit of Chinese culture as the “thought
content” of the work, while using modern Western art as its “mode of expression”.

Second, it is an innovative artistic style in that the mode of expression of Chinese
traditional art is integrated into the modern conceptual language and the innately
innovative character of modern Western art.

In a word, the synthesis of Eastern and Western culture is the essence of the
“Hong Kong School” as put forward by Dr. VAN Lau. This is also the heavy burden
shouldered by a pure artist who takes upon himself the task of helping to build a Hong Kong culture.

The attributes of the “Hong Kong School” are not just demonstrated in Dr. VAN
Lau’s sculpture, but also in the full range of other artistic media including oil painting, printmaking watercolor, photography, and landscape design. Yet his sculpture is by
far the jewel in his crown of achievements. Sculptures by Dr. VAN Lau stand tall not
only throughout the public spaces of Hong Kong and mainland China: they can also be found in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Singapore. Exhibitions of his work have been held over the world. The many international honors and awards bestowed upon him indicate his irreplaceable contribution to sculpture.

Dr. VAN Lau has the modesty of the true literati gentleman and is universally
praised for his humility, moral integrity and erudition. He does not “hide in an ivory
tower” but digs deep into the world and is socially conscious, carrying on his mission
of passing the cultural torch to the next generation through his engagement in the
promotion of artistic exchange and his dedicated teaching in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Mr. President, in recognition of his great accomplishments in and his contribution
to the art field, I present to you Dr. VAN Lau for the award of the degree of Doctor of
Letters, honoris causa.

Source: December Issue 2013

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