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.
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.