In “Loomings” the narrator we’re told to call Ishmael makes himself known to the reader obliquely. Between the lines as it were, we learn that Ishmael is a former schoolmaster, steeped in the Classics, who perennially gets so “hazy about the mouth” to go asea to alleviate his “spleen”: to avoid doing a-harm to others or to himself, his “substitute for pistol and ball.”
In MK’s first rendering of the narrative apparatus or conceit of Moby-Dick the name Ishmael appears atop the page of “found paper” drawn in blocked capital letters, outlined with thick black strokes. The original printing of some circuitry manual is still legible beneath the painting, revealing that the name “ISHMAEL” isn’t painted on but rather merely formed as a preserved space of the canvas, projected as if on a screen – or perhaps as the screen itself – by a beam of prismed light parting a cloud formation, jaundiced as if backlit by the sun. A figure of Ishmael that will recur throughout MK’s MD as a major motif appears painted large in the lower-right quadrant of the page: the shape is vaguely head-like with two blue, glaring eyes spaced widely apart. The upper portion of the head-like shape is bedaubed grey and the lower portion of the figure is blue, the line between these two hues drawn as two peaking waves that give the head-like shape a sort of grimacing expression to my eyes.
Since “Loomings” is composed mostly as a poetic meditation on the magnetic virtues of water – the most abundant substance on Earth: at once the most vital of its life-giving elements and its most destructive force – it’s fitting that MK first renders Ishmael as a sort of baghead, tied off neatly at the top, half filled with the stuff. Ishmael’s head looks to me like the sack of water a child would be seen carrying away from a fair as a prize, only this bag has eyes and no fish inside.