IN AN ART WORLD that often seems to elevate style over substance and rewards gloss and flashiness, Kwok Mang-ho, a.k.a. “Frog King” (b.1947), is a welcome antidote. He is easy to place and hard to pigeon-hole, a persona that is a mixture of childish adornment, joy, and serious long-term commitment. Frog King, by his own admission, doesn’t fit easily into the dealer gallery model. He gives away a lot of his work, and, as with much performance work, large chunks of it are ephemeral. I doubt the notion of “restraint,” often required by dealer galleries, is high up on his list of favorite words. What you get from any Frog King interaction is a sense of fun and his deep unbridled joy and pleasure at making art. There is also a seriousness in his work, but it’s not self-reverential, gloomy, or heart-on-the-sleeve. It comes from the ideal that art can, should, and does make the world a better place.
Approaching “Totem” at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, we get our first hint at the magpie-like chaos that is often associated with Frog King’s work. An assistant struggles with lengths of material attached to the old prison wall opposite the gallery, while repurposed doors, pieces of wood, metal drums and more line up to be used or discarded. Two-dimensional works such as ink paintings and collage have been hung on the walls, some of which break the generally accepted idea of the 90-degree rectangle. Placed carefully on the floor is a veritable forest of both large- and small-scale works. Modified tree trunks and found objects dominate, all altered with Frog King’s trademark graphic black-and-white interventions.
But not all of Frog King’s energetic chaos has been subordinated to the confines of the white cube. Turn a corner into the small alcove at the back of the space, and there is Frog King in all his anarchic glory, reconstituted junk and detritus and all. There is hardly a clear inch of space among the haphazard piles, clothing, re-purposed objects and tools. I stand there hoping against hope that this little bastion will spread, like a living, throbbing, thriving mass, and subvert the tightly-but-precariously controlled space. And I’m sure it will—Frog King is not a man to let things be.
“Frog King: Totem” is at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong, until October 18.