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Man blends art and science

20020815
WEN JIAO ( China Daily )

Artists meet: Dominic Man-kit Lam (left) with painter Guan Shanyue. [ China Daily ]

Artist, scientist and entrepreneur. Few people would be surprised if somebody excels at one or two of these professions, but a hat-trick is quite rare.

Meet Dominic Man-kit Lam.

Now living in Hong Kong, the man in his 50s is the inventor of "Chromoskedasic painting," an accomplished medical professor and biologist, and a rising mogul with businesses in both the United States and Hong Kong.

But Lam is most comfortable as an artist, his passion since childhood.

Lam was born in Chaoyang in South China's Guangdong Province and moved with his family to Hong Kong when he was a child. An avid art lover, Lam displayed unusual artistic talents when he studied traditional Chinese ink painting under veteran artists Johnson Chou, Zhao Shao'ang and Yang Shanshen in his early years.

When he graduated from middle school, Lam asked his parents to let him study art in college. They strongly objected, fearing that it would be too difficult for him to survive as a professional artist.

"So I chose to study mathematics in college because it seemed to be the easiest to learn," Lam said. "To study literature, you had to write papers. To study physics or biology, you had to conduct experiments. But to study mathematics, you only had to understand."

The young man did not expect to have a knack for science. After only six years of study in Canada, Lam got a bachelor's degree in mathematics, a master's degree in physics and a doctorate in bio-physics, the latter from the University of Toronto.

Lam then pursued a career in which he could combine his interest in art and training in science: vision and ophthalmology research.

He was offered a fellowship at Harvard Medical School to train under Torsten Wiesel and David Hubel, who received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

In 1977, Lam went to the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston as an associate professor and later professor of ophthalmology.

It was here that he and a colleague discovered a novel biopharmaceutical for the prevention of secondary cataracts, leading to the establishment of the first biotech company in Houston in 1984 and the Centre for Biotechnology in 1985.

In 1988, Lam was invited to be the founding director of the Hong Kong Institute of Biotechnology, thus beginning his frequent shuttles between the United States and Hong Kong.

In 1993, Lam founded the Life Tech Group of Companies in the United States to develop, manufacture and market health-care products. After Hong Kong's return to the motherland, Lam moved the headquarters of Life Tech Group to Hong Kong and has lived there ever since.

During his many years of study and work in science and business, Lam did not give up his dream of art. Instead, his background in science and business has served as an impetus to his understanding and practice of art, as well.

One autumn evening in 1980, Lam made a fortuitous discovery that "was to become a breakthrough for his art," according to Chu-Tsing Li, a professor of Chinese art history at the University of Kansas in the United States.

While printing black and white photographs for his eye research in the darkroom, Lam found yellow and brown patches on the pictures. Curious, Lam decided to understand the theoretical and experimental basis underlying this process.

He applied different varieties, concentration and time of exposure of the photographic solutions as well as different lighting conditions to black and white photographic paper.

Eventually he was successful in empirically controlling and producing many of the colours and images on the paper, resulting in the invention of a novel painting medium that he named "Chromoskedasic Painting."

Today, Lam has refined his skills in using this medium in his art works, which are often in the semi-abstract styles and give boundless space for imagination.

Since 1990, Lam's art has been exhibited extensively in the United States, Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, proving to audiences the endless possibilities of blending art and science.

"Instead of materials and skills, what comes first in artistic creation are inspirations and ideas," Lam said. "Creativity always represents the highest stage, no matter if it's in art, science or even business."

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