Currently on display at the Artistree gallery in Taikoo Shing (not five minutes from my house) is an exhibition paying homage to that rarest of creatures – a Hong Kong counterculture icon. The ‘King of Kowloon’ left his mark all over the mainland side of the city – literally, in the form of densely worded diatribes he painted on streets, lighting poles and underpasses. In the rambling, hard-to-read missives he proclaimed himself )incoherently) to be the rightful heir to the “King of Kowloon”, railed against Hong Kong’s ‘illegal occupation’ by the Brits and demanded compensation. His messages were a familiar sight on the streets of many Kowloon neighborhoods over a forty year period until his death in 2007 (and many pieces remain, one at the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui apparently. I’ll have to keep my eye out for it):
Now he is often celebrated as an example of a Hong Kong “outsider artist” and at least one lavish photo book has been produced of his works. Shortly before his death, an original piece of his calligraphy sold for 55,000 US dollars at Sotheby’s.
It seems likely that Tsang Tsu Choi (as he was more conventionally known) had some kind of obsessive/compulsive condition. His story reminds me powerfully of Arthur Stace, the homeless alcoholic who spent forty years scrawling the word “Eternity” in beautiful handwriting across Sydney’s streets in yellow chalk.
Both men, very much at the margins of society, who made their presence felt through the power of art -or dogged, misdirected determination?