Artist Roy Wang talks about his journey, collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre, and future initiatives.

Can you share with us a bit about your journey as a light-painting artist and how you first got started in this field?
Being a professional rugby player was a very special chapter in my life. But in 2012, a neck injury forced me to end my playing career and so I returned to China in 2013. To be told that I could never play again was a huge shock. It took a long time to recover – physically and psychologically – but I found solace in light-painting. Discovering quiet, dark places where I could create these light-paintings brought me a sense of peace. It gave me a new way to live, one that springs from deep within my heart, giving me a renewed sense of purpose. I often say that when God closed a door for me, he left me a light.
In Japan, where our rugby training and matches took place during the day, I found myself with a lot of free time at night. I’ve always been passionate about photography, so I often spent my evening taking photos. One day, in 2010, I came across Pablo Picasso’s light-drawing photographs created with Gjon Mili for Life magazine. I was immediately captivated by the art piece and, that very night, I bought a bag of small lights from a convenience shop in Tokyo and began experimenting on my own.

I love this art form. It’s not like being a traditional photographer, where you’re hiding behind the camera and shooting the picture. As light-painters we create the work in front of the lens. Dressed in black to remain invisible in the painting, darkness serves as my canvas and light as my brush.

What inspired you to combine elements of Chinese culture with pop culture iconography and calligraphy in your work?
When I first created the art of light painting, I was more influenced by Western creation, and I would try to paint some geometric figures, pursuing cool visual effects with color contrast, but after a period of practice, I found that I didn’t have too much of my own style, and I wouldn’t let anyone know what Roywang’s works were, so I tried to add some Chinese elements and combine them with modern light painting art, such as painting some flowers full of Chinese characteristics or more modern under ancient Chinese architecture. For example, I would add Chinese totems or Chinese calligraphy to modern cities. I like this combination of modern and past creations, and I also like the combination of multiple cultures, for example, during this exhibition at Jaeger-LeCoultre, I was inspired to draw a Chinese dragon in Arabic calligraphy in front of the future museum, this fusion may only appear in my light paintings, and when I posted it, many friends liked this idea! I think creativity comes from life, and when you combine it with the art of light painting that you see in the world that I’m good at, everything can happen, because it all happens naturally.

How did the collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre come about, and what attracted you to work with the Maison as their made of maker?
It was totally unexpected, but very flattering. Jaeger-LeCoultre reached out to me by email, which initially took me by surprise – I had never imagined such a prestigious Maison would be interested in my work. They explained that they were looking for a light-painter to collaborate with for their Made of Makers programme and had discovered my work through the Guinness World Records. From then, our collaboration started to flourish.
Upon my initial encounter with Jaeger-LeCoultre, I was struck by the Maison’s rich heritage, unwavering commitment to excellence, and relentless pursuit of perfection. When I first encountered the Jaeger-LeCoultre team to discuss about the project, I realized how motivated they were to create art works that are impactful and pushed the boundaries of what is possible in light-painting.
Our collaboration pushed me beyond my comfort zone, leading to breakthroughs in my expertise in light-painting and immersing me in a new realm of artistic expression. Through this collaboration, I made a breakthrough in creating new light-painting tools, developed new methods and witnessed the seamless fusion of advanced watchmaking and the art of light-painting. A new microscopic world was unveiled to me, the world of fine watchmaking.

In what ways do you believe your expertise in light-painting adds to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s ethos of precision and innovation?
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s meticulous attention to detail was evident throughout our collaboration, as every member of the team dedicated themselves to creating from dusk till dawn. Despite the constraints of time, our precise execution well demonstrated the interweaving and fusion of time and light, an eternal classic partner.
As I delved deeper into my acquaintance with Jaeger-LeCoultre, from my initial introduction to our collaborative ventures, I discovered a profound synergy akin to that between a master watchmaker and a light-painting artist. Through mutual understanding and appreciation, our partnership blossomed into a seamless fusion, reaffirming my belief that Jaeger-LeCoultre is not merely crafting timepieces but creating enduring works of art.
Precision is essential to our collaboration, and it was through this partnership that I discovered numerous similarities between light-painting art and watchmaking technology. Light-painting art captures the path of light through prolonged camera exposure, a process invisible to the eye yet intricately complex in execution. The creation process is multifaceted, requiring seamless execution from location scouting and equipment debugging to parameter settings, light source utilization, and the final presentation of the work.

Can you walk us through the creative process behind your collaborative projects with Jaeger-LeCoultre? How do you approach blending light, photography, and innovation to create unique experiences for the audience?
Our collaboration was totally unexpected, but very flattering. Jaeger-LeCoultre reached out to me by email, which initially took me by surprise – I had never imagined such a prestigious Maison would be interested in my work. They explained that they were looking for a light-painter to collaborate with for their Made of Makers programme and had discovered my work through the Guinness World Records. From then, our collaboration started to flourish.
Jaeger-LeCoultre presented me with the unique challenge of interpreting three of their timepieces through light-paintings. Typically, my light orbs are bigger than me and so I use my whole body to make the movements. For this project, I had to recalibrate my technique to a miniature scale, which was something I had never tried before. The first step was to craft new tools and lights – smaller ones that would allow me to paint tiny lines. My team and I then suggested incorporating elements from Chinese culture, such as the dragon for the Chinese Dragon year. They loved the idea but then the question was figuring out how I was going to make a dragon so small! I had never considered to work on this scale, so this project with Jaeger-LeCoultre pushed me to innovate within my craft and embrace this exciting challenge.

What impact do you hope your collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre will have on the audience and the broader artistic community?
From a collaboration perspective, I am deeply grateful to Jaeger-LeCoultre. This partnership challenged me to step out of my comfort zone, where I typically create large-scale light paintings or normal-sized works out of thin air, and into the intricate world of watchmaking. For this project, I had to enhance all the props and shooting methods for my paintings. In China, we often say to step out of your comfort zone and do breakthrough things. This time, I accepted the challenge and completed it successfully. Everyone who sees the work will be surprised and curious about how I did it.
For the development of light painting art, such millimeter-level light painting works are very rare and could even be considered a first! To adapt to space painting, I needed to rethink my canvas and truly immerse myself in the world of watchmaking. After visiting the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture, I gained a deeper understanding of Jaeger-LeCoultre and discovered many similarities between the art of light painting and watchmaking. Precision is the core of our collaboration this year, and from this creation, I realized that precision is crucial in crafting small worlds.
In 2018, 2021, and 2023, I set the Guinness World Record for the largest light painting, and in 2023, I also set the record for the most simultaneous light paintings. I am currently the holder of two Guinness World Records.

Collaboration often involves a dynamic exchange of ideas and expertise. How do you navigate the collaborative process with Jaeger-LeCoultre to ensure that both parties’ visions are realised?
We have had extensive discussions about the creative vision, and just before the Chinese New Year, Jaeger-LeCoultre officially released the Reverso watch with a dragon seal engraving on their official Instagram. I was immediately captivated by it and proposed the creative concept of “Dragon Travel Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture” to the Jaeger-LeCoultre team. They loved the idea, and we combined the light painting creativity of the smallest world with the cultural totem of the Chinese dragon, resulting in a perfect and vibrant project.
I faced numerous challenges during the initial creation and testing of props. The props I used for painting dragons were LED lights measured in centimeters, but I needed to redesign them to be 0.5-0.8 millimeters to create within a very small space. I had to abandon all my previous spatial references and adapt to the new, much smaller canvas. Creating this miniature Chinese dragon took considerable time to master.
For the other two pieces, I had to design props that incorporated advanced technology and mechanics to achieve the smallest ball of light. This required a very small motor capable of rotating both horizontally and vertically, powered by a battery, to create a beautiful double ball effect above the dial. Regarding the stop-motion animation, my initial idea was to use light to draw a Chinese dragon. This involved capturing 12 light images per second to animate the dragon, which had to move with an amplitude both vertically and horizontally. To achieve this, I followed a pattern of three upward and downward movements while drawing the dragon.

How do you hope your work will impact viewers and inspire future generations of artists?
I aim to introduce more people to the captivating world of light painting art. Emerging from photography, light painting beckons creators to wield their cameras as brushes, crafting realms both familiar and fantastical. This fusion of light and imagery embodies what I term ‘Light Painting Art.’ Its allure lies in its versatility – from playful to grand, imaginative to romantic. My hope is for more individuals to embrace this creative avenue. For me, the essence of light painting art lies in its enigmatic process; painting freely in the dark evokes a sense of liberation. I aspire to share this mode of creation with fellow art enthusiasts in the future. Light painting art granted me a new lease on life, filling the void left by a rugby injury.
Reflecting on this, I often jest that when one door closed, a luminous LED light emerged. Through my journey, I’ve come to believe this light symbolizes the transformative power of light painting art.

What are your aspirations for the future of your career as a light-painting artist, and where do you see yourself heading in the coming years?
After returning to China in 2013, I introduced the art of light painting. Initially mistaken for night photography, it took significant effort to have it recognized as a distinct art form, but the journey has been immensely rewarding. The imaginative and visually impactful nature of light painting art, coupled with its cultural and traditional co-creation, highlights its value. Young people are particularly drawn to this form of creation. For instance, at the Jaeger-LeCoultre exhibition in Dubai, we incorporated an interactive photocall at the opening ceremony, creating customized portraits for attendees. This project tested the essence of light painting, requiring quick communication and rapid on-site creation in mere seconds, resulting in unique works, each presenting a new challenge.

I relish these challenges, likely due to my sports background, and I thoroughly enjoy the process. Light painting transcends commercial projects and traditional art exhibitions. My recent works have been featured in major international art exhibitions alongside traditional paintings and sculptures. As a new art form, it needs more appreciation and recognition. Regardless of the future, I hope culture will remain a hallmark of my creations. Whether drawing from Chinese culture, which I excel in, or the Arab culture I have recently been passionate about, I will continue to pursue my unique creative methods.
In a recent collaboration with a Chinese car brand, we completed a groundbreaking project at the D3 skyline, using three cars to create the first large-scale light painting artwork overseas. This project excited me particularly because I combined Arabic culture with traditional Chinese culture, drawing a Chinese dragon where the head was painted in a Chinese style and the body featured Arabic calligraphy. The fusion of these two cultural symbols is profoundly captivating.

Looking ahead, do you envision continuing your collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre, and are there any exciting future projects or initiatives on the horizon that you can share with us?
Why not? As I mentioned in the interview, light and time are eternal partners. Their interplay perfectly showcases the essence of light painting art and high-precision watchmaking. Let time prove everything; I will continue to create my light painting art!
In Dubai, we recently achieved a 2021 Guinness World Record for the first human-car co-creation overseas. Our creation spanned over 6,000 square meters, three times the area of our project in Beijing, and beautifully blended Arab and Chinese cultures. This year marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the United Arab Emirates, and we anticipate even more exciting creative content in the second half of the year.