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Lot Details


Tsang Tsou Choi

( Chinese, 1921 - 2007 )





Acrylic on canvas


49.80 in. (126.50 cm.) (height) by 107.09 in. (272.00 cm.) (width)


Signed in Chinese on bottom left


PROVENANCEAcquired directly by present Asian collector from the artistBold Strokes anda Hong Kong LifeTsang Tsou Choi ‘King of Kowloon’Tsang was so energetic and full of freedom that no social constraints and rules,not to mention aesthetic or artistic criteria,could ever prevent him from acting in his own way and creating his own oeuvre ....He is probably the most unique and outstanding creative mind that Hong Kong has ever contributed to the world.——Hou HanruTsang Tsou Choi,the self proclaimed “King of Kowloon” and creator of the Tseng Family Tree is as renowned in Hong Kong as Banksy is today in Great Britain,though he was born in Guangdong Province,China,in 1921 and only later moved to the territory.At the age of 35,while sorting through the belongings of his wife’s ancestors,he claimed to have discovered evidence that his ancestors were given Kowloon as a family estate during the Southern Song Dynasty.Thereafter,Tsang started writing Chinese characters with a calligraphy brush,utilizing the genealogical format to detail the past deeds of both himself and his family.At the time,Hong Kong was still a colony of Great Britain and he regularly scribbled graffiti in downtown areas “declaring” his “sovereignty over Kowloon,” for the next 50 years.What is Art?Tsang,who collected garbage for a living and lived in a home piled high with putrid objects,spent his life scribbling down his widely disbelieved family tree on the streets of Hong Kong.He also filed a complaint with the government demanding the return of his family estate and occasionally even went as far as to expand the scope of his demands to include England.Until the late 1980s Tsang was considered insane and people kept their distance.However,from the 1990s to the beginning of the New Millennium,the world moved from an era of colonialism to a global economy.It was in this period,not long after sovereignty over Hong Kong was returned to China,that economic turmoil,the hegemony of international enterprises and the rapid development of the Internet intensified the contradictions between different levels of society.As a result,street artists,who had previously been considered a social nuisance,became pioneers in underprivileged protest.In Tsang Family Tree the “King of Kowloon” always presented himself as a victim of land appropriation and protested to the government in a non violent manner.On such occasions,he occasionally employed “absurd” Hong Kong language usage,for example by referring to the Queen of England as “big sister,” which earned him the distinction of being revered as an “old master” by local graffiti artists and the respect of French urban artist Space Invader.The Calligraphy is an unusual work from Tsang in that it is 250cm in length and made of acrylic color and orthodox canvas.It is owned by Hong Kong artist Simon Birch and essentially encapsulates the vicissitudes of Tsang’s 50 year long graffiti career.Accidental ArtThe Calligraphy is arranged in the format of a classical southern Chinese traditional family tree,recording the details of births,deaths,marriages and the lives of those in his family over several generations.The work is read from top to bottom,left to right and starts with the least senior member of the family,each section containing the members of different generations.It starts with the history of Tsang Tsou Choi himself and contains the classic title he bestowed on himself -- “King.” Above that are other commonly used phrases relating to the Tsang family land -- “New China,” “China-UK” and “Beijing,” whereas the terms “Kowloon City” and “Hong Kong government” were holdovers from earlier works.More surprising,is the appearance of the words “founding father” (Guofu) between the lines,which probably refers to his ideal nation and Sun Zhongshan,a major figure from the same era as Zeng Guofan,a prominent member of the Tsang clan.In his works,Tsang sought the return of his family’s land from his “Big Sister”–Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.Strictly speaking,the writings of Tsang Tsou Choi are not graffiti but rather an individual publicizing his legal complaint in a public space.Indeed,Tsang never claimed to be an artist and never drew/wrote in a “non public space.” Most of the pieces handed down come after art critic Liu Jianwei helped him take part in an exhibition at the Fringe Club in 1995 and hold his first solo exhibition at the Goethe-Institut Hong Kong in 1997 and were produced for other art exhibitions.In only a few cases did Tsang write in ink on paper,preferring in many instances to use every day items as his canvas,including wooden boards,umbrellas,glass jars,and even motorbikes.The Calligraphy is a rare example of a work that uses an orthodox artistic form and this unexpected creative process highlights the value of the piece.This work was produced in 2000 when Simon Birch was looking for other artists to take part in his own art.He and good friend rapper MC Yan came across Tsang Tsou Choi in Kwun Tong and asked him to write an inscription on one of Birch’s works.In under three minutes,Tsang had filled the paper and keen to do more asked Birch “Have you got anything else I can write on?” As luck would have it the latter had brought with him a roll of canvas and that was how the Calligraphy came about.Birch recalled “When he finished writing Tsang Tsou Choi laughed a satisfied smile.I was really embarrassed he had written for so long and so I asked him ‘is there anything I can do for you in return?’ He thought for a moment and in a somewhat embarrassed tone said:‘I’m hungry,do you have anything to eat?’ We found a strip of paper in his home,Tsang talked and MC Yan wrote down a list,then we went our separate ways to buy the things on the list.It was only then that I learned he wanted to eat custard tarts and a tin of dace with black bean.” For the last 18 years the Calligraphy has been a prized part of Birch’s art collection.Tsang Tsou Choi was not confined by the norms of traditional calligraphic script and his writing style and charm were always non-conformist,conveying the sort of magnificence and power typical of traditional stone table inscriptions.Living in the cracks that exist between society and popular culture,Tsang created unforgettable pop culture memories.



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