Outsider. Graffiti Artist. Urban Poet. Meet one of Hong Kong's most celebrated and misunderstood cultural icons.
Tsang also wrote extensively in marker on long rolls of cheap paper. He wrote constantly, almost automatically, often replacing exhausted markers mid-text. After moving into the elderly home in 2004, Tsang's nurses forbade him from using the pungent Chinese ink and Tsang was limited to writing exclusively in marker.
While Tsang is best remembered for covering Hong Kong’s ubiquitous grey electrical boxes with characters, he would literally write on every surface and material he could find. Walls, bridges, lampposts, signs, posters, lamps, t-shirts, tea kettles, paper, wood panel and more, all formed a never-ending three-dimensional canvas for Tsang’s relentless brush.
In this writing, Tsang wrote a sequence of Chinese numbers from 1 to 11, for each family generation. The three horizontal lines is a Chinese "3", and continues in Chinese through "6". Tsang then substituted the Arabic (commonly thought of as Western) numerals for "7" and "8" before returning to Chinese for 9-11.
In 1997, writer Lau Kin-wai curated the first solo exhibition of Tsang's writings at Goethe-Institut in Hong Kong. The exhibition raised questions about whether Tsang should be considered an artist and whether his work belonged in a gallery. Nevertheless, later in the year Tsang was included in the landmark 'Cities on the Move' exhibition curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hou Hanru. The show traveled from P.S.1 in New York, to Hayward Gallery in London, Louisiana Museum in Denmark among others. Later exhibitions included Johnson Chang's 1999 'Power of the Word' traveling exhibition, and the 2003 Venice Biennale curated by Hou Hanru.
Beyond the white cube, Tsang Tsou-choi made cameo appearances in several films and television ads, inspired fashion designers, and has been the subject of numerous articles from Ming Pao Weekly to the New York Times. His presence and influence lasted generations, though recently has faded as all but a handful of his writings have been destroyed or covered over.
Written by Jehan Chu, Vermillion Art Collections