The land of peaceful coexistence
Sculptor Florence Chik-Lau uses animal subjects to express her message
By Lina Nijmeh
In the last decade, Prince Edward County is where sculptor Florence Chik-Lau has found the inspiration for her work. Her surroundings, including the animals that inhabit the space beyond her backyard, serve as subjects for her clay sculptures, which carry a deeper meaning than what they first seem to convey.
Each sculpture begins with a message, which is then delivered through the grouping or expression of the animals.
“I try to create different characters–do different things than just the animal themselves,” Chik-Lau explains. “The shape is the animal but the sentiment is very human.”
The universal message carried in all her pieces is one of peaceful coexistence. Each of her anthropomorphized subjects, carry a general impression of the breakdown of communication between individuals, which is something Chik-Lau wants to draw attention to. Her sculpture of two rabbits standing back to back is representative of this breakdown.
In the ‘Utopia’ series, she joins different species and positions them in various ways leaving it to individual interpretation.
“Just through the gesture, the expression on the face of the animal, it conveys a message– it’s a very subtle message and people get different things from it,” Chik-Lau explains. “Everybody who liked my work always told me that each piece–each animal has a different expression and it’s whatever you take away from it.”
Before moving to rural Ontario with her husband and two children, Chik-Lau studied graphic design at the Ontario College of Art (OCAD) and worked as a graphic designer in Toronto for several years. Born in Hong Kong, she admits her exposure to art was limited save for painting lessons she fondly recalls taking with the full support of her parents. But she always knew she wanted to be an artist and art school is what drew her to Canada.
Chik-Lau bashfully laughs as she admits she wasn’t very good at the standard method of shaping clay on a wheel,” but became inspired by animal sculptures. “The first piece I did of the animals worked out well and people started asking me to buy it,” the self-taught potter says.
Working in her small home-studio, Chik-Lau takes an unconventional approach to sculpting, which allows her sculptures to remain unique. Each piece begins as a 22 by 22-inch slab of clay, which she pounds it into a flat piece before shaping it and adding features using photo references. Once the clay is dry, she brushes the details with ceramic stain before it gets fired for its final step.
“My technique is slightly unusual. I don’t do what people normally do with a block of clay,” Chik-Lau says. “All my animals are hollow inside.”
Chik-Lau is a very positive person despite the darkness underpinning some of the uplifting messages she wants to convey. All her sculptures are optimistic and she surrounds herself with the same positivity in her workspace, where a print of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ hangs.
“There is only one piece I have done, even though the message is kind of sad [of] three different animals–the rhinoceros, elephant, and polar bear [because they] all are endangered.”
Once piece which represents her work well is ‘Bear, dear, fox’ – an idyllic scene of Canadian forest animals, stacked one on top of the other. “The bear is a Celtic symbol for the animal goddess, Artio–she’s a Celtic goddess of the animals and she usually takes the form of a bear,” Chik-Lau explains. “So the bear being very protective of all the other forest animals.”
Protection is an underlying theme that also appears in the many mother and child pieces she attributes to her years working full-time raising her children.
Along with her general sculptures, Chik-Lau also creates masks, ornaments and jewellery of the same nature. Without the use of molds and because the clay is soft and collapsible, Chik-Lau admits not every piece comes together given the process.
“Because of the method I use is really organic, sometimes it happens right away, sometimes it’s a struggle to get it going,” Chik-Lau says. “Even after eleven years and hundreds of animals, I never could tell whether this is going to work or not, and then you keep working on it and suddenly, it happens.”
Chik-Lau‘s work is in many private collections across Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia.