Visitors to artist Louise Solaway's tiny flat in Wan Chai are treated to a most unusual sight. On the wall, hanging from hooks, is a cheerful row of plaster-cast torsos. And perky bottoms. And a couple of feet. And a pair of hands. Every one of them looks as if it had been painted by a traditional Chinese artist working with the freshest of colours in a spirit of great jollity. So, for instance, Ming dragons unfurl across underwear and pale, crackle-glazed thighs and pomegranates ripely bloom on bosoms. Even the most startled onlooker has to laugh at the charming cheekiness of it. The truly funny thing, though, is that Solaway, 35, had intended to do something more sombre with her life casts. She has been in Hong Kong, on and off, for the past three years, ever since she came out as artist-in-residence with the British Council in 1994. For three months, she taught sculpture and life-casting in various schools and colleges. Then, for almost 18 months, she worked at Chek Lap Kok, creating one huge fibreglass bas-relief of the new airport site (that is now the property of the Airport Authority) and another 15, slightly modified, versions for the various construction companies involved in the project. She became, as she put it, 'one of the boys'. And it was in that capacity that she was introduced to the girlie bars of Wan Chai. It was a turn in her life that was to have unforeseen consequences for the artist. 'That made me think about the different ways people watch each other,' she says. 'It was taboo and yet it's such an established part of Hong Kong life.' She decided that she wanted to imprint the faces of a leering public on body casts of the dancers, so that the viewer would have an image of what it was like to endure such a gaze from a woman's perspective. The idea of recording decadence - a certain rottenness in the state of Hong Kong - was reinforced by a visit to the George Grosz exhibition at London's Royal Academy earlier this year. Grosz revelled in the squalor and corruption of 1920s Berlin. His work is harshly grotesque, full of sottish, sordid images. 'I recognised that whole side in Hong Kong,' Solaway says. 'And just before the handover there was a feeling that it was all going to go pop here, there was so much pressure that it was manic.' Yet an odd thing happened. While she was still testing how to convey such dark visions on a body cast, a friend, who was about to be married, commissioned her to do a personalised body cast for her fiance. The idea was to make a cast of the bride's torso and to cover it with relevant images of their courtship - the club where they first kissed, a diving holiday they had enjoyed, various happy symbols of Hong Kong, and even their business cards. 'And in a way that made the project take a whole new direction,' Solaway says. 'It became . . . personal. And I realised that I wanted something that was simpler, not garish. 'Maybe it's a reflection of my lifestyle now but I felt that life in Hong Kong softened after the handover, that the atmosphere thinned out.' At the same time Solaway found herself increasingly fascinated by the fragility of Chinese ceramics as displayed in the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and the Museum of Art in Tsim Sha Tsui. She wanted to incorporate it - literally - into her work. People volunteered their anatomy, so to speak, and Solaway painted the resultant casts so that they looked like varnished cloisonne, pale celadon or the finest blue-and-white porcelain. Now she accepts commissions from anyone who wishes to have a foot or a hand (or a modestly clad bosom or bottom) immortalised as a singular work of oriental art. The process is painless and relatively speedy. She has just done an arm encompassing a baby's bottom - an unexpectedly sweet and touching image - and, although the child wriggled, the cast has come out with the perfect ripples and dimples of infancy. Solaway simply wraps the required area in plaster-impregnated bandages which she buys by the truck-load from a medical supplier ('I'm sure they think I'm a mad private doctor, breaking millions of arms . . .'), dips it in water and carefully applies it to oil-coated flesh. Within 20 minutes the bandages are dry. Faces can be slightly complicated - swimming caps and straws stuck up nostrils are essential, apparently - but Solaway is keen to develop the potential of heads, particularly male ones. She has a persistent vision of a modern terracotta army marching in the exhibition, which she plans to hold later this year. In contrast with the working environment of her airport project and her other corporate work (including large bas-reliefs for SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals and Salomon Brothers), the intimacy of body-casting has come as a minor shock. 'I'm not that tactile with people I don't know, and I sometimes feel that I'm like a surgeon,' she says, laughing. 'You have to put people at their ease but keep concentrating on what you're doing. 'People are fascinated by their bodies, they start comparing them with the other casts, and sometimes they're shocked by what they see of themselves. 'But it's always an exact cast and it doesn't lie.' For those of you intrigued by the description of this process, Solaway is running adult life-casting classes at the Visual Arts Centre, 7A Kennedy Road, on Saturday afternoons beginning on October 25. Incidentally, she has never been able to do a cast of herself: the manoeuvre involved may be simple but it is too fiddly, she says, to accomplish self-portraits. Yet she has achieved something perhaps more durable: something that started out as an exercise in demonstrating how the human form is debased by the eyes of voyeurs has evolved into a more sunny, life-affirming project. 'Maybe it's a sign of growing older and more mellow,' muses Solaway. 'But what I see now is how beautiful and how well-formed the human body is. When you cast it you see how perfect even the imperfect ones are.'