If you have been living in Hong Kong for some time, you must definitely have seen multiple artworks by iconic artist Frog King. And you must probably have spotted him across town, being a “Live Body Installation” himself with his over-the-top outfit, made of layers of black and white clothing (with a pair of trousers over his shoulders as a cape!), a wig of platinum blond hair, a huge hat with a rotating light box and multiple DIY accessories, including his famous froggy sunglasses.
But don’t be fooled by his eccentric outfit. Frog King is above all a visionary and prolific artist who, as a child, decided to “devote his life to art”. Born in 1947 in Guangzhou, Southern China, and raised in Hong Kong, Kwok Mang Ho, aka Frog King, is a multi-media, conceptual, visual and performance artist, considered as one of the pioneers of contemporary art in Hong Kong in the early 1970s. He is particularly known for his creations “Frogtopia”, colourful mixed-media installations and graffitis of his signature frog icon.
He began his artistic journey in the 1960s as a traditional ink painter with “Hong Kong New Ink Painting master” Lui Shou-Kwan, but swiftly moved away from tradition in the 1970s, starting using ink painting as a conceptual tool for multi-media installations, and working with unconventional materials and daily ready-made objects. This was not considered as art in China at that time and was difficult to comprehend for the public. But the fact that his art was uncommon and not well understood is exactly what made him continue his artistic journey.
In the late 1970s, Frog King created his “Plastic Bag Project“, where he metaphorically collected people’s anxiety and fears into plastic bags. In 1979, his “Plastic Bag Happenings in China” in Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall shocked the conventional public. This is now considered as the first ever piece of performance art in China and this is what led Frog King to be considered as a pioneer in Hong Kong art scene.
In the 1980s, Frog King moved to New York, where he eventually spent fifteen years studying, experiencing new art scenes and underground graffiti. He studied for four years at the Art Students League of New York. Then, without a visa, he became a cleaner at a Chinese restaurant. At this time in New York, Basquiat and Keith Haring were rising artists. This was the golden age of the graffiti art and the underground culture and Frog King became friend with artists from Asia, like Ai Weiwei, Chinese-American painter Martin Wong or Hong Kong-born photographer Tseng Kwong-chi, well-known for his photographs of Keith Haring’s work.
This is in New York that Frog King started covering his abstract ink paintings with tags of graffiti artists and that he created his iconic signature motif, a graffiti-style frog’s face with large triangular eyes. “Frogs can see two different worlds: underwater and on land. As Frog King, I also see the two worlds”, says Frog King, who was crossing between cultures, between Hong Kong and New York.
His work might be perceived as chaotic but is more the expression of his spontaneous imagination and experimental spirit. “Frogtopia” refers to the utopia of his artistic space and world. Inspired by the world around him, Frog King has one philosophy: “Art is Life. Life is Art”. For him, there is no boundary between art and his life. He can use everything as source material: conversations, events, restaurant menus, photographs, newspapers, etc.
Frog King eventually returned to Hong Kong and settled down in 1995, where he continued to push boundaries with his installations and street art. In 2011, his solo multimedia art exhibition “Frogtopia-Hongkorucopia” represented Hong Kong at the 54th Venice Biennale, with a perfect combination of calligraphy, collage, painting, photography, sculpture, video, and the iconic frog signature throughout.
In addition to his own creative projects, Frog King has always been very committed to the local art and education scenes, whether he was stage designer at the Experimental Cantonese Opera association of Hong Kong (1970-75) or lecturer at the School of Design of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (1977-80) – where he even taught Hong Kong most famous director Wong Kar-wai! Since his return to Hong Kong, Frog King has been director of the Museum Project at the Cattle Depot Artist Village, director of the Hong Kong Art Institute, and art course teacher at the Student Union of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Since 1967, Frog King’s artworks, installations and performances have been showcased at over 3,000 exhibitions and art events worldwide, including London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Toronto, Hong Kong and Singapore. He has also received numerous awards and honours internationally and his work is collected by museums, foundations and private collectors globally.
Despite his success, he has remained true to himself and his inner child. If you want to meet him, you can go to Cattle Depot in Ma Tau Wan, a former century-old slaughterhouse transformed into a village promoting community art. There, you will get chance to discuss with Frog King and to participate to his performances. You will even be able to wear the famous “froggy sunglasses”! Like David Bowie in the 1990!