Discovering the Inner “Zen” in Each of Us
By Elaine Wong, director, corporate communications, ID Media and Draftfcb Asian Heritage Group co-chair
Last week, many colleagues at bothDraftfcb andID Media found creative inspiration in an atypical source: a 10-year survivor of a Chinese Cultural Revolution workman’s camp.
That individual wasJiang Guo-Xiang, a 78-year-old artist and founder of the school of Chinese Modern Zen oil painting. Master Jiang, as many reverently referred to him, was visiting the U.S. for the first time as part of a cultural art exhibit—in honor of Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month—during which we showcased some of his work.
The event, held at Draftfcb’s New York offices on May 8, also featured artwork from other Asian/Pacific Islander cultures, spanning China, Japan, India and Thailand, for example. But Jiang—who’d taken his first flight outside of China, accompanied by his wife, the week prior—was the event’s main draw.
One can easily see why. Earlier that day, Master Jiang set up “shop” and began to paint. For those of us who work in the creative/media professions, watching him was an absolute joy.
White haired and soft-spoken (he doesn’t speak a word of English), Master Jiang walked and moved slowly, something that is to be expected of someone his age. But when he painted, his whole body livened. It is as though art, or the very act of creating it, somehow allowed him to transcend age—and time.
He endured a lot in his life. During his 30s, when most people were approaching their career “peak” (he is a stage art designer by training), Master Jiang, along with his fellow “intelligencia,” as other “rebels” were called, was scurried off to a machine tool plant in China’s countryside for defiantly embracing Western art. He didn't receive his freedom until the 1980s, after which, he spent some time working as a senior art designer at a Chinese TV station before retiring and, eventually, secluding and immersing himself in the study of Zen Buddhism.
Those dark days in the countryside plant didn't seem to stifle his inspiration.
On this particular day, for instance, Master Jiang, wearing a Buddha prayer bead bracelet on his left hand, flicked definitive dots of color (with his finger) onto a giant canvas while powerful Buddhist music, “Om mani padme hum” mantra, played softly in the background. I was almost afraid to disturb him. Draftfcb colleagues were able to watched him (conveniently) via a live streaming on several TV screens stationed throughout 100 W. 33 Street and also streaming live to Area23, NeOn, Mosaic and ProHealth.
Master Jiang was introduced to us byArtists of the Americas, an organization that Draftfcb’s AHG group had worked with last year, and which seeks to “empower curious minds by displaying the artworks and sharing the life stories of emerging artists from across the world.”
Following the exhibit’s kickoff, Master Jiang, with the help of his nephew, spoke briefly with the audience. In response to one audience member’s question, the master artist revealed that he does not have a specific end goal or vision when he paints. He lets his inner creativity and inspiration, drawn from Zen Buddhism, guide him.
Master Jiang was an interesting cultural find. As one of the newly appointed co-chairs of Draftfcb’s Asian Heritage Group (AHG), me, along with my fellow committee members, Karen Gumbs, manager, Draftfcb Diversity & Inclusion, and Danielle Zion, marketing coordinator, ID Media, were looking for an artist who would have a distinctive draw. Someone who would unite and inspire employees, regardless of background, around a common theme. After all, one of the goals of business resource groups like the AHG is to bring together employees of all backgrounds.
Master Jiang's piece created at Draftfcb