It’s a shoreline scene. Rudimentary gray outlines of storied buildings grow up slantwise beyond the rolling, yellow bank. The “water gazers” described in Loomings are painted as grey limbless cylinders, bald and rounded at the top, with beaky noses and lidless dilated eyes, their faces pointing in every direction but toward the geometric structures in the background. Some behind the rolling yellow shoreline peek over the vales, others stand erect near the black line forming the shore between ochre yellow and opaline blue – facing every which way, waterward all they stare, toward the vantage of the viewer of the canvas. One of them – the foremost, with only the top of its head shot above the bottom of the frame – faces me directly, blankly, like a photobomb. Variously patterned and colored, some of the figures appear partially submerged but still shooting up out of blue as if through a wormhole, never quite in touch with that native element they’re so drawn to.
The city folk Ishmael espies trapped in “ocean reveries” as an escape from their daily lives confined in lath and plaster, chained to desks, while drawn to the water for reasons akin to those of the renegades, castaways, and meanest mariners aboard the Pequod are not in MK’s illustrations imbued with the element as other characters are – or traversed by it, opened to it – but rather insulated from it, dried out from want of it. No lids for their eyes because no moisture to quicken there, much less a tear to spare. They’re like buoys: still made for the water but only what they are so long as they keep it out.
MK’s choice of line here shows his partiality to MD’s humor. While the illustration isn’t unfunny, it repels me like an unwanted glimpse in a mirror. My sister, a sailor, would probably laugh more freely at it. I guess it comes down to how honestly you can occupy the vantage the canvas casts you in.