Meet the Artist: The Amazing Assemblages of Gabriel Lau a.k.a. @labeg
Today Watchonista speaks with artist Gabriel Lau, also known as @labeg, who deconstructs the world’s most sought-after timepieces (and our mutual obsession with grails and unicorns).
For a watch enthusiast, Instagram can be an almost bottomless rabbit hole and unreasonably addictive. Not only do I have frequent FOMO for all the incredibly beautiful timepieces that pop up on my timeline, but I’m also frequently tempted by the accounts of unique artists.
Perhaps “tempted” is too weak a word. When watches and art intersect, I’m in real trouble. That’s how I found myself as the proud owner of a vintage Rolex Explorer 6150 – albeit one rendered in layers of cardboard by Hong Kong-based Canadian artist Gabriel Lau, also known by his Instagram handle, @labeg.
And even though Lau explores other themes in his practice, he has found many fans in the watch-collecting community. So, Watchonista wanted to dive deeper into his horological inspiration and process.
Of course, we wanted to know which interest came first: the art or watches.
“My interest in art came first,” Lau told Watchonista. “I loved art as a child. Art was always my best subject in school,” he added chucklingly. “I liked watches while growing up, but I wasn’t obsessed with them until I started to study product design. So, while in university, I fell in love with the functionality, mechanics, and craftsmanship of high-end watches.”
Without a doubt, Lau’s take on depicting timepieces is unique. He uses humble materials like cardboard to recreate incredibly luxurious watches. He cuts out the pieces and layers them in a slightly skewed manner.
Then, the elements are assembled with the precision of a highly trained Swiss watchmaker, but the finished pieces have a sort of street art aesthetic that are an enticing confluence of style and technique. So we asked Lau how he came to use this approach.
“I drew inspiration from artists who were creating three-dimensional art with cardboard, wood, and other mediums,” he explained. “I chose cardboard since it was a familiar medium to me because I used a lot of similar materials at university to make prototypes and models.”
What’s fascinating is that in the end, despite his use of “base” materials, Lau’s approach lets us reinterpret what time and timepieces means. And each work has its own personality.
Before we go any further, it is important to note that every one of Lau’s watches is a faithful reproduction of an existing watch: “I try to capture every single visual detail I can,” said Lau. “Even the diameter of each watch I make is the accurate size. But each watch is made with its unique shape and perspective. No two watches are ever the same.”
Lau continued: “My art comes from my desire to challenge how people view watches and what they think is valuable. I want my watch art to be the opposite of perfection and high value by being imperfect in form and using materials with little value.”
Of course, Lau has become a watch collector himself. And ultimately, that has helped him find new ways to connect with his subjects.
“One of my favorite aspects of collecting watches is discovering all the fine details of a watch,” he said. “So I spend a lot of effort to recreate every visual detail possible to invite the viewer to look closer at all the details, even with a magnifying glass!”
Lau also draws a lot of inspiration from other collectors. He told me, “One of the greatest things about making watch art is that it is a way for me to express my interpretation of a watch in a unique way. It is also a way to connect with the people I make them for and the story behind their watch.”
Then Lau added: “It’s also a way for others, and me, to experience watches that are unattainable.”
For example, Lau has immortalized the legendary Patek Philippe x Tiffany & Co. Ref. 5711 Nautilus and several limited-edition Richard Milles. Although, he did say: “The Richard Milles are the most challenging to make because there are so many details to draw and paint.”
Instagram is not Lau’s only platform. He also has his website (labeg.art), and he has displayed his work in art galleries in Hong Kong.
“It’s such a pleasure to meet with watch collectors in person. I love to talk with other collectors about watches and art,” Lau said about his gallery experience. “I’m always so honored that people are interested in my art and always happy to share my passion with them. Everyone I’ve met through gallery openings has been amazing to talk to and always so encouraging.”
Lau is also collaborating with the micro-brand WMT on the Microcosmo – Labeg Series MS0010. And interestingly, it is a 32mm chronograph aimed at kids with a Daytona-esque white dial that features Lau’s freehand typography. It reminds us of the face of the Bulgari Octofinissimos with the original design sketches on the dial.
“They contacted me and wanted to create some fun watches,” explained Lau. “I hand drew everything, and they were able to make the hands, dial, and bezel reflect my drawing.”
Although announced on August 17th, the Microcosmo won’t be available for purchase until October 2022; however, this collaboration sees Lau’s story come full circle: Watches inspire artist, the artist posts watch art on Instagram, and finally, artist works with a watchmaker inspired by the artist’s watch art.
“Instagram is a huge part of why people even know about my work, and it has given me this opportunity to be creative and share my passion for art and watches with everyone,” said Lau. “It’s also an amazing way for my art to reach people from all over the world. And I am so grateful for such a great community of people who enjoy my art.”