Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 31

9/26/21, 9:30pm

31

As previously, when Ishmael was observing the lodgers at the Spouter Inn (before meeting Queeuqeg), MK’s found page comes from the sewing manual for public scenes. For this canvas, set as the book is now in the bustling streets of New Bedford, he had many more intriguing subjects to choose from to make his illustration, but the emphasis is once again on the clothes as much as it is on the subject wearing them. The one is in the other.

On this found page a pictorial guideline for “forming a seam” runs down the ride hand side of the inverted page and one for “keeping seams straight” on the left. Painted over this page is a dandy of a figure, done up mostly in blue, whose body takes almost precisely the form of the wide inverted U-shape that is repeatedly printed to the left side of the page with minor variations to show proper seam straightening technique. MK’s bodies take the shapes of pattern pieces. The dandy’s seams are several and all of them very neat. Forming the most prominent one is a thin band of red piping running parallel to a dashed line stitch; it runs at a diagonal forming the broad royal blue lapel flapped over most of the dandy’s chest. The figure’s sky-blue shirted shoulder is revealed behind the lapel, sporting an inverted Y-shaped black stitch pattern formed of a widely spaced dotted line and a narrow dashed line running parallel to the downward slope of the figure’s body. The lower portion of the figure bells out below the belt; the navy blue tailcoat (the text of MD refers to it as a “swallow-tailed coat”) has a pocket to its left and a vent seam in its front running perpendicular to the middle of the bottom margin of the found page.

The dandyism of the figure would be much less evident without three distinct accessories: 1) the basket-weave textured belt made of blocks of blues, black, red, and white – a blue ringed white badge for a buckle featuring a thin black anchor; 2) a bi-triangular blood red sword, at belt’s end to the figure’s left, with a thin gold hilt and woven textured handle butted in black circles; 3) the “beaver hat” atop the figure’s head, a blend of brown-black dabs from a rounded brush, painted low, just above its blue-green baleen band.

The figure’s only feature besides its clothes, sword, baleen band, and two rows of whiteblock gritted teeth is its blackness. Several pages of Every Page of Moby-Dick ago now, when I encountered MK’s black Angel of Doom, I proposed that the peglike figures that stand in for people in MK’s illustrations are racialized, since the first one painted black occurred on that page in MD when Ishmael stumbles rudely into a “negro church.” Since that page, three other figures have been painted black: the “young fellow” spotted gulping down dumplings in the Spouter Inn, Bulkington (in all three canvas where he and his peagreen monkey-jacket appear), and this dandy, who Ishmael loudly points out to the reader among the throng on the streets of New Bedford by day: “Look there! that chap strutting round the corner.” I’ll never be able to read or see that black Angel Doom other than as a Black Angel of Doom, and there are compelling arguments that Bulkington is Black; being painted black, the hungry “young fellow” and this well dressed chap share a connection with these canvases. If the blackness of all these figures is interpreted as Blackness, one effect of that connection is a diversification (on MK’s part) of the people of the crowd singled out in the early chapters of MD that one wouldn’t expect of most cinematic versions of the book.

There’s another interpretation: another feature that most of the peglike figures colored white have in common is that they’re naked compared to the lovingly adorned black chaps; the water-gazers only have simply-patterned wraps about their peglike bodies and then beaky noses and protuberant eyes to show which way they’re pointing. The peglike bodies painted black sport vibrantly painted jackets based on realistic pattern shapes and stitch patterns; they wear dramatic accessories. The Black Angel of Doom has no jacket or collar but two fantastic wings. Black bodies in MK are adorned to reveal beauty and white bodies are stripped down to reveal emotion.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 031

Title: Look there! that chap strutting round the corner. He wears a beaver hat and swallow-tailed coat, girdled with a sailor-belt and sheath-knife.
(8.5 inches by 10 inches; acrylic paint and ink on found paper; September 6, 2009)