Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe


Sea of ink by Richard Weihe

Swiss fiction

Original title – Meer der tusche

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy .

So I come to the last of the year of  small epics by Peirene press .I’ve  over last week or two have  reviewed the other two books  in the series .This the final choice for last year  was written by Richard Weihe .Richard is a Swiss writer .He studied in Zürich and Oxford ,he has written a number of  very poetic biographies of artist ,he also translates poems and plays from American English .He also presented a Swiss TV series on philosophy .So to sea of ink not a non fiction bio but a Novella following the life of Chinese painter Bada Shanren .

Micheal Stipe sang about a perfect circle ,he of course meant a perfect circle of friends ,but Bada Sharen the star of the novella spent six years trying to just draw the perfect circle freehand .This novella is a study and insight into the man as an artist ,that man Bada Sharen is one of the most revered Chinese artist .He was also a poet and showed talent from an early age,We see the young boy move through his life training to be a pain ter a monk and nearing the end of the book a descent into madness .The book is structured in very short snappy chapters little glimpse into his life,his working style and why he painted that way  ,we also are treated to 11 of his pictures ,we see a change in his art through the pictures his early examples seem less assured .Bada was a man who sort perfection in his art and maybe let his life fall to the side at times due to this  .

Bada Shanren had become a master and young painters came from far and wide to show him their work and seek advice .They generally brought small gifts ,ink tablets from their Provence or jars of jam ,and he would thank them politely .These visits were punctuated long periods of silence ,when he would immerse himself completely in his work .

Bada Shanren at the height of his powers as a master artist

I struggled with this I loved Weihe writing style and would read his work again at times I was reminded of Thomas Bernard another writer who used art and artist in his work , in his novels but Weihe is a far more  minimalist compared to him in his careful use of words and just the bones of the story or the description of Shanren working on one painting .  Yet again Jamie showed what a great translator he is ,he work on love virtually one of my favourite books of recent years and has translated other books I’ve read and a couple on my tbr pile ,so to see his name as a translator is always one I know I ll get along with .Back to the book I think what the problem was is Bada Shanren himself I just didn’t click with him as a character I admired his art but  just couldn’t connect with him as a person. I may return to this book at a later date ,if I knew more about chinese art and culture maybe I would be more engaged .But this is a book for anyone that likes art or is artistic .

Have you read this book ?

Have you a favourite novel about art ?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. wordsofmercury
    Jan 17, 2013 @ 18:54:41

    It looks like I enjoyed this more than you. I think the way to get into Shanren’s mind is to understand him as near constituted by his art. If you understand that, you begin to understand him. (I reviewed it a few months ago:


  2. parrish lantern
    Jan 17, 2013 @ 19:05:01

    I loved this book & had no trouble connecting with the artist, but I’d not long finished a book on Japanese art & Haiku which shares a lot of similarities with the Chinese Shuimohua style of painting. If you want to check out more about this art form check my post for links.


  3. Tony
    Jan 18, 2013 @ 02:47:47

    Still looking for an affordable German-language copy of this – I think I’ll be looking for a while…


  4. Annabel Smith
    Jan 18, 2013 @ 03:02:12

    I haven’t read this and know very little about Chinese culture and art so it may not resonate with me either. My favourite novel about art is Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved.


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January 2013


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