In which the art of Thomas Kong swallows a bodega in Rogers Park

I’ve been walking by Kim’s Corner Food in Rogers Park on Chicago’s far North Side almost daily for 14 years.


I went inside a few times to have keys copied.  The proprietor, Thomas Kong, was always kindly and soft spoken.


About five years ago this sign appeared.  God is good.  You are special.  Fudge Brownies.


Soon after, collages of found materials on cardboard were slid behind the bodega’s window bars.


An then—an avalanche, an explosion of art.


The art of Mr. Kong took over the bodega.


It covers the cooler.


It’s inside the freezer.


It’s artfully hung above the chips.


It peeks out from behind the dusty spice collection.


The coffee maker is not overlooked.


Mr. Kong works with readily available materials: mostly packaging, foam trays, pulled-apart boxes and leaves.  That t-ball trophy from 1999 is not going to waste either.


Somewhere, Joseph Cornell is smiling.


This tape dispenser abstract is one my favorites.

mrkflame mrkthree mrkstipes mrkpapers mrklittledebbie mrkkite

Mr. Kong’s best work is abstract.  His signature shape is a sort of wing—I particularly enjoy the wing-shapes repurposed from a Little Debbie box.


Kim’s Corner Food is open long hours.  Mr. Kong is always working.  His art materials cover the counter where people buy their cigarettes and lotto tickets.


There’s a lot of mythology about artists creating through fits of passions and inspiration.  That’s total b.s.  I’m around artists everyday and can guarantee you that they succeed through discipline and perseverance (and okay, a fair amount of sucking up to the right people).  Still, I can’t help but think Mr. Kong is an exception—the need to create art appears to have overcome him late in life.  It’s as if he can’t stop, or  just doesn’t want to, even as his artwork slowly swallows his bodega.

I encourage you to stop by Kim’s Corner Foods at 1371 West Estes Avenue in Chicago.  Mad respect to Thomas Kong.



How we got to Kim’s Corner Food: on foot

Where we slept: at home.  Price: mortgage, assessments and utilities.  Recommended: highly.












  1. I’d shop there from sheer curiosity….and how right you are about how artists achieve success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s not much to buy these days—most of the merchandise is faded and dusty.

      The majority of the artists I know work constantly for little money and recognition.


  2. The ones I came across in the days when i was in London spent their time trying to crawl up Saatchi’s backside…but even that capacious receptacle did not have room for all…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ewwww, Saatchi!

    Sycophancy is not among my many talents, contributing, I believe, to my total failure to support myself as an artist.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I believe this to be a major obstacle….as is not having a publisher in the family for writers…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t think artists creating through fits of passion is a myth, but like young love, that passion won’t always last for that medium or even that piece that you’re working on. I finished my first series like that. Constant writing. No sleep. No food. Couldn’t tell day from night and didn’t care. I did the same with my second. And I rewrote that same series nearly ten years later on the same spell.

    As for this guy, maybe he has the same compulsion. Just a shame he hasn’t been provided with better avenues for sharing it. Good of you to help him by posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s cool you got to experience that level of passion, Empress Alexis. I just wonder, like young love (as you so articulately put it) the passion lasts through copy editing and re-writes and letters of solicitation to editors and applying for grants and through rejection letters…….

      Mr. Kong’s art has more exposure though his bodega and through street traffic than most artists with a show at some obscure gallery when maybe 20 people come by to eat cheese cubes at the opening.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cool, but perhaps unhealthy haha. I really wasn’t paying attention to my sustenance.

        Hmm…. well yes, those things do continue the passion to some extent, but that’s where the effort and application comes in. That’s love, as opposed to the blind infatuation we started off with.

        You’re probably right about the exposure, but it looks like his art is swallowing up his livelihood. Or maybe that’s just my OCD kicking me in the face.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I love, love love this and would, the next time I’m in Chicago, totally seek out this bodega. I love the packaged leaves and the round shapes on the coolers. I wonder how the other customers feel?! It’s a beautiful expression of the human need to create and whether its fits of passion, or dedication, I do believe both come from a Need to make sense and derive meaning from the world and to create. And yes, he probably does get more exposure than someone in an obscure gallery. He made his own store a gallery and didn’t wait for anyone’s permission. He just goes for it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you socialdee. I think you hit on the key point for art, and for life, never ever wait for anyone’s permission.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. P.S. It reminds me of the Henry Darger documentary, “In the Realms of the Unreal” and how he filled his apartment to the brim with his works of art- except Darger’s was hidden and Mr. Kong’s is on display

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t seen that documentary yet, but I’ve seen a lot of Darger’s work in person and it’s just fantastic. It’s really to bad it wasn’t recognized during his lifetime.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cool! I’ve wanted to see it for awhile now. I need to go to New York 🙂 And yes, it is too bad, it’s some really fantastic stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. undicibella · · Reply

    How inspiring! It is amazing what you can create with such simple materials. You never know what you have lying around..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly–and I am always interested in seeing art in situ. In this case, I case see the materials the art was created from in situ as well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: