Writing's on the wall for the King of Kowloon's art

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2008, 12:00am

Pledge to preserve Tsang Tsou-choi's graffiti yet to be fulfilled

Graffiti created by the late 'King of Kowloon' throughout the city is fading and flaking with some even defaced by stickers, despite calls following his death six months ago for his remaining work to be preserved.

Friends of Tsang Tsou-choi say more needs to be done to protect the eccentric, controversial artist's distinctive calligraphy which he painted on walls across Hong Kong for decades.

Shortly after Tsang's death in July last year, the government promised to preserve his street calligraphy amid calls from artists and the public for his work, which in the past had been removed by cleaners or covered up, to remain visible and accessible.

Of the once ubiquitous heavy black characters scrawled on walls across the city, a government spokesman said just 12 known sites remained. Tsang's friends have identified a few additional sites. The government has taken steps to preserve one of the sites on public property but the remainder are in danger of disappearing.

'In November last year, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department sprayed a layer of coating on a pillar at Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui to protect Mr Tsang's works,' a Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman said.

The coating of water repellant would protect the calligraphy against natural weathering, according to the bureau.

However, nothing has been done to preserve the other 11 spots identified as sites of Tsang's work.

'For the preservation of Mr Tsang's works, measures will include in-situ preservation by applying transparent protective coating and carrying out regular maintenance and photographic recording,' the spokeswoman said.

Born in 1921 in Guangdong, Tsang became notorious and famous for brandishing his ink brush in almost every corner of the city, defacing walls and lamp posts with his rambling diatribes.

Joel Chung Yin-chai, a friend of Tsang's who last year published a book - The Art of Treason, a collection of photographs and short essays on the life of the self-proclaimed King of Kowloon, was upset at the lack of effort to save the artist's works.

'Hong Kong people and the government should do more to protect these works. The culture value of them is beyond estimation,' he said.

Mr Chung compared Tsang to Vincent van Gogh.

'I am not saying his works are as precious in artistic or cash value as the great painter. But both of them were great artists who were so serious about their works when they were alive. They did their works with all their heart and expected nothing in return,' he said.

The life story of Tsang summed up Hong Kong people well, Mr Chung said. 'It's the Hong Kong spirit that we get things done first before asking questions or calculating the gains.' Mr Chung said he was sad people overseas treasured Tsang's works more than local people.

'The Italian government just approached me as they wanted to hold an exhibition of Mr Tsang's works later this year. But what have we done?'

Another friend of Tsang, Lau Kin-wai, agreed. 'It seems that we have done too little. Can the protective coating on the pillar at Star Ferry Pier, prevent the works from deliberate damage by people?'

Mr Lau suggested putting a small plaque at each of the 12 spots where Tsang's calligraphies were identified.

'The plaque can reveal to people what these works are and details of Tsang's life,' he said. 'It can make people understand that they should try to protect this golden chapter of Hong Kong.'

Fading fast

Remaining examples of the King of Kowloon's calligraphy

Kennedy Town

Temple walls on Kennedy Rd

Wall outside Kennedy Town Abattoir on Cadogan St

Kwun Tong

Flyover column on Tseung Kwan O Road opposite Kwun Tong Police Station

Wall along Kai Lim Road, opposite the entrance to Kwun Tong swimming pool (above)

Traffic control box on Yue Man Square

Wall of CLP building on Yue Man Square

Wall on Tsui Ping Road

Yau Tsim Mong

Pillar at Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui

Traffic control box at 610 Nathan Rd

Traffic control box outside 62-72 Sai Yee St (right)

Two traffic control boxes on Boundary St

Choi Hung

Temple walls in Ping Shek Estate

Slope on Kwun Tong Road near Ping Shek Estate