Breaking a Reed to Make a Brush

Title: Breaking a Reed to Make a Brush
Creator: Mansheng Wang
Culture: Chinese
Work Type: Painting
Material/Medium: Ink on Newspaper
Date: 2018
Measurements: estimated

“Breaking a Reed to Make a Brush” is a painting wherein Mansheng Wang utilizes a page in the New York Times as the medium for a poem. The poem is painted vertically against the horizontal print of the newspaper. The journal page contains a crossword puzzle in the bottom left corner with its clues in the bottom righthand corner of the piece in addition to two KenKen puzzles depicted in the upper-right corner of the poem. In the upper-left corner of the piece, there are eight advertisements for novels, films, and leisurely activities. Mansheng Wang’s poem covers the entirety of the medium except the upper-left corner containing the entertainment advertisements. A red seal is positioned in the bottom-left corner of the poem just above the word “Crossword.”

In the Chu Room Exhibition, Mansheng Wang’s calligraphy is displayed in the rear of the exhibit towards the lefthand side in a glass encasement. There is a row of lights that directly illuminates the artwork inside of the encasement which essentially draws the viewers’ attention to the art. The piece itself emphasizes Mansheng Wang’s life transition from his early life in Northern China to his current life in New York. By using a Western entertainment medium such as the New York Times in order to express a poem through traditional Chinese calligraphy highlights Mansheng’s transition from the East to the West. The Transmission Principle of Chinese Painting is depicted through Mansheng’s modernization and westernization of calligraphy by illustrating his poem on an unusual medium. Additionally, the piece is almost entirely covered by the poem except for the upper left portion of the piece which contains the majority of leisurely advertisements. This evinces the commanding presence of Western commercialism especially since it has been left untouched by the poem. Mansheng alludes to the pressures experienced by Eastern cultures to interweave Western practices into society.

Mai Mang (2020) Wang Mansheng, Chinese Literature Today, 9:2, 66-84, DOI: 10.1080/21514399.2020.1852025

Author: Sofia Di Scipio

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