LAI Chi-Man is an important artist and pioneer of contemporary Taiwanese stone sculpture. Born in Hong Kong in 1949, he studied sculpture at the National Taiwan Academy of Arts (now National Taiwan University of Arts, NTUA). After graduating, he went on to hone his craft at the world renowned Henraux studio at the Carrara quarry in Italy, where he would encounter internationally celebrated artists such as Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, and Pietro Cascella. After training there for four years, Lai received the Robert I. Russin sculpture fellowship and went to Wyoming in the US where he also successfully completed a Master of Fine Art degree in 1980. He subsequently travelled to the Netherlands, where he obtained the status as a professional artist in 1982 and launched his career as a fulltime artist.
In 1982, the National College of Arts (now Taipei National University of the Arts, TNUA) was established in the Kuandu area of Taipei, and Lai was invited to return to Taiwan to teach at their Department of Fine Arts, making him a pioneer in the academic training of modern Taiwanese sculpture. Since then, until his retirement in 2016, Lai has invested more than thirty years of his life to teaching sculpture. At the same time, Taiwan also became Lai's new creative base, where he has been producing works of high quality, achieving international recognition. His works have been collected by the Dutch National BKR Visual Arts Agency, the University of Wyoming Art Museum, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, the Hara Museum ARC in Japan, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong, Seoul City Hall, the Shanghai Sculpture Park, among others. Domestically, he was the first artist ever signed by Eslite Gallery, he is a leading figure in Taiwanese public art; indeed, an iconic figure in the ethnic Chinese world of sculpture.
Having lived and travelled across the world, Lai's experience spans across Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, USA, and the Netherlands. This has fostered a deep understanding of western aesthetics in him. However, he decided very early on to base his creativity on oriental philosophy, drawing his inspiration from the great landscapes of the East, as this corresponded perfectly with his artistic direction, both conceptually and formatively. As a result, most of the work over his forty-year career related in one way or another to the theme of “shanshui” (landscapes). His art is rich and diverse, and while his skills and technique follow western traditions, his core ideals originate from the East.
As Rodin once said that colours and lines alone cannot move us, what touches us is the meaning that is imbued in them. Lai uses the forms and textures of the raw stones and accentuates them with cuts and his human will. The result appears natural and almost haphazard, and intrigues through the playful interaction between materials. However, this is only possible through years of trial and error, and boiling things down to their essence. Lai’s stone carving shows a laid back, confident, eternal clarity, summarising a generation of Taiwanese sculptural aesthetics.
From the perspective of contemporary sculptural history, Lai's aesthetics are informed by a deep cultural knowledge that spans across both East and West, which makes him unique in the ethnic Chinese sculpture circles. Asian modern sculpture emerged much later during the 20th Century than in the West, and therefore often appears to lag behind despite all efforts. However, as an ethnic Chinese sculptor, Lai spent ten years in his youth exploring Europe and America, intensively and extensively absorbing their artistic essence, completely immersing himself in western culture, learning ideas and skills from the best. Yet, in the end, he chose Taiwan as his long-term creative home, thus integrating all that he had learned with a cognizance of the land, reinterpreting Asian sculpture and establishing his personal creative values.
Lai Chi-Man said: “In the thirty years that I have been making art in Taiwan, I have never stopped to try and explore, to expand the visual vocabulary of Asian sculpture. It should simultaneously have the Oriental sentiments of a connection with the soil and nature, as well as the slick elegance and emotional depth of western aesthetics. I hope to break the confinements of personal cultural backgrounds, and create a shared artistic language and value from the ground up.”