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7 Takeaways From Jordan Wong's '10,000 Things' At Akron Art Museum

Sun Wukong in "Journey to the West" (2021) [Jordan Wong]
Jordan Wong's cartoon rendering of Sun Wukong in "Journey to the West"

Jordan Wong’s art is brimming with words and pictures drawn from ancient Chinese mythology, advertising, video games and everything in between. His latest exploration of this universe of images is on display in his first solo show at the Akron Art Museum. It’s called “The 10,000 Things.” Here are seven things to take away.

1. Trying to Capture the Universe

"Tall Grass XLR (G. Garden)" (2021) [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]

“The ‘Ten Thousand Things’ is a Taoist phrase that refers to the universe, the world, pretty much all that’s in existence,” Wong said. “It kind of relates also to the to the imagery of things that are ebbing and flowing, and just always shifting. I love the concept of energy. I love visuals of movement, which I think have strong connections to life, to narratives, to human beings and growing. So, that's why a lot of the choices I make connect to that.”

2. Early Influences

Grandparents pose with baby Jordan [Jordan Wong]

“My grandfather was really supportive and encouraged my enjoyment of drawing,” Wong said. “He would take computer paper and, like, cut it up into smaller squares and just have a big stack of it in the kitchen for me to draw on. I could spend hours drawing. cartoon characters, comic book characters, you know, videogame characters, things. Things I was watching on TV, and all sorts of animations and things like Sonic the Hedgehog, Dragon Ball Z. All those things.”

3. Sun Wukong, the Monkey King

Detail from Jordan Wong's "Journey to the West" (2021) [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]

“Sun Wukong [is] one of the main characters in ‘Journey to the West,’ which is a classic Chinese novel, written a long time ago,” he said. “And there's a lot of adaptations of this character. I grew up watching the ‘Journey to the West’ TV show that was made back in the ‘80s.

Production still from "Journey to the West" [China Central Television]

"My grandmother would record this show and have it on VHS tapes for me to watch," he said. "The story is just fantastical and really appeals to your imagination.”

4. The Halo Effect

Detail from Jordan Wong's "Tall Grass XLR (G. Garden)" (2021) [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]

Wong said he was recently asked about the rings and halos floating throughout his illustrations.

“I think they're a great motif to kind of connect to this idea of the divine or otherworldly, something that is beyond this physical realm,” he said. “To have this, this halo or ring kind of like float around you, 24/7? It's just this really cool, imaginative scene.”

5. Looking At Clouds

Detail from Jordan Wong's "Journey to the West" (2021) [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]

“I like using clouds, because I feel like they really are great imagery that communicates wonder, imagination, whimsy. And you can use them in all sorts of different ways,” Wong said. “They are a great ornamentation element. And now that I'm thinking about Chinese and Asian artwork, clouds are really used, especially in images of heaven and things that are divine, which I'm very much inspired by, things that are kind of otherworldly or beyond the realm of what we know.”

6. Little Versions of Myself

Part of Wong’s love of whimsy is evident in a little cartoon rendering of himself that he hides among the many images populating each illustration. On a recent Saturday afternoon, there was a buzz among visitors looking for this character with glasses and a ponytail.

Art museum visitors play "Where's Jordan?" amongst all the imagery in Wong's "Journey to the West" (2021) [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]

“Hiding little versions of myself is kind of a new thing,” he said. “Just because the works I've been doing recently are just so detailed, and there's so much going on, why not get away with hiding this small version of myself? And it's kind of become a way to 'sign' my works.”

Detail from Jordan Wong's "Journey to the West" (2021) [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]

7. Finding Balance and Bliss

“I love the work that I'm doing now,” he said. “The common thread is this idea of perseverance, encouragement, growth. Now I'm exploring it again in relation to those Taoist ideas – the ebbs and flows of life. You know, being a little softer when things are tense and hard.

Detail from Jordan Wong's "Journey to the West" (2021) [David C. Barnett / Ideastream]

It's kind of finding a balance and maybe bliss in this crazy life that we live, which, you know, I think applies to not just the times we live now, but in the past and times that we're going to live.”

Jordan Wong’s new solo exhibition, “The 10,000 Things,” is currently on view outside the Akron Art Museum in the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden. An indoor installation is due in the fall.

Artist Jordan Wong speaks with a visitor at the opening of his Akron Art Museum exhibition "The 10,000 Things" [David C. Barnett / Ideastream]

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.