Kwok Mang-ho, perhaps more well known as Frog King, is one of Hong Kong’s most acclaimed conceptual and performance artists. While he has participated in more than 3,000 shows internationally, including the renowned Venice Biennale, this is only his second solo commercial exhibition in Hong Kong. Usually decked out in bug-eyed sunglasses and clothes printed with his signature frog motifs, we meet the eccentric artist in a rare state of casual dress to discuss his latest exhibition and his approach to art. The exhibition at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery runs until January 30 and showcases Frog King’s creative output over the past year and a half, including paintings, mixed-media works, an on-site installation and performance art.
Since the ’70s, Hong Kong had quite a conservative art scene. But I liked to experiment with everything. I was always breaking regulations. I always wanted to evolve or improve. When I looked at people repeating or copying [other artists’ work] – that’s not creative thinking. The community would complain that I always drew the most attention in group shows. Even museums thought I was a wild child. I didn’t feel welcome.
I studied traditional painting with ink and brush in the ’60s. I studied art education as a teacher. All of these things made me quite close to a conceptual artist. For conceptual art, the most important thing is to have a good idea.
In the ’70s, I tried to use the human body as the base for an installation. I called it the Live Body Installation. In 1977, I taught at Hong Kong Polytechnic’s design department. I brought the students out to Nathan Road in Kowloon to explore, to show that art is not just a painting; it’s life and the human body is a mobile object. A live sculpture – that kind of idea.
Sometimes I’m satisfied with people thinking that my art is avant-garde. But other times, I think – what’s the meaning of that? I don’t think about what avant-garde is. The thing about avant-garde is that it’s very narrow.
Some countries like Japan keep the old traditions that generations pass to generations. That’s very intelligent. I want to work in a kind of art community that’s like the Amazon rainforest, where there’s a lot of ancient, original genes that we keep and use.
Everybody has to know who they are. I am handicapped in some ways. I don’t read very well; I’m slow. I cannot use computers; I need some assistance. But I’m very quick to come up with concepts. I have many ideas in my head. Once you know yourself, find something to do that feels good and makes you happy. I chose art.