Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 30

9/25/21, 7:35am

30

Ishmael’s surprised to find the company of whalemen lodging at the Spouter Inn such quiet and evidently shy company over breakfast. He, a great spouter himself, was expecting stories. MK illustrates the line wherein Ishmael contrasts the “sheepish,” “bashful,” and “timid” manners of the whalemen at the “social breakfast table” with their unabashed bravery upon the high seas, where they have “duelled [great whales] dead without winking.” The canvas inspired by this line becomes the first of MK’s many illustrations of whales for his enterprise (excluding that “portentous, black mass” that occupies the dingy canvas in the entryway to the Inn), but this is only a partial view. Just the top of a leviathanic head breaches the bottom margin of the canvas and extends halfway up its length before tilting outward to the right; the curvature of its brow is just within frame near the middle of the right margin. The body of the whale is composed mostly of overlapping, variously sized lateral shapes like razor clam shells, outlined in black and shaded black-grey along their upper edges. The body of the whale is colorless, apart from this shading, so the printed text of the found page is visible behind it: fragments of histories of artillery fire and maneuvers asail read through. Just above curvature of the whale’s brow a black-and-white engraving of galleon warship is printed on the upper third of the found page, partially obscured by graphic clouds of grey and white over pink that originate spoutwise from the foremost point of the whale’s head where emanates a sloped column of grey and white bands with one pink band shot through it. 

Standing astride the whale’s back, braced against its rise, is the broad figure of Bulkington, his green monkey-jacket buttoned up tight and a bulky silhouetted lance tilted to his side. Just below the tip of the lancehead is an overlarge lidless anthropomorphic eye drawn to one side of the great whale, its striated blue iris and watery black pupil rolled upward in its socket toward Bulkington. Upon the ponderous body of the whale the enlarged human eye looks oddly, its passive, dewy form juxtaposing the graphic spout emanating sharply from the whale’s head, that band of pink shot through the grey and white expelling the whale’s lifespot. But the eye isn’t so much the whale’s as it’s Ishmael’s, turned up into his own head and imagining the “war stories” he expected to be regaled with over breakfast. The wave formations atop the wedge of seascape painted behind Bulkington in the background of the illustration evoke the horizon-line of Ishmael’s own water-bag head. It’s funny that Ishmael, a greenhand to whaling at this point in his own story, jokes that you would have thought these “timid warrior whalemen” a fold of sheep upon the Green Mountains, sheepish as they were. Veteran soldiers, however, are often less embarrassed about remembering their past battles than about remembering how to be sociable animals once more.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 030

Title: Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas—entire strangers to them—and duelled them dead without winking…
(8 inches by 11 inches; acrylic paint, colored pencil and ink on found paper; September 5, 2009)

Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 29

9/24/21, 7:32pm

29

In the light of day, and with a fair prospect of breakfast before him, Ishmael gets a better look at his fellow lodgers at the Spouter Inn, some of whom he saw arriving the night previous. In the text of MD Ishmael registers several precise physical characteristics of these specimen “whalemen” in his description – “a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.” These attributes are ellided out of MK’s isolated line from “Breakfast” which serves the title of his illustration, whose matter instead is a list of the whalemen’s ranks on the hierarchy of the whaleship or what form of labor they bring to the fishery: “They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers.”

Notably absent from MK’s illustration of this company of whalemen upon the landscape-oriented canvas is the cylindrical peglike figure of the landlubber. Workers in whaling are differently drawn, imbued with either the elemental mediums native to their labor (primarily water, fire, and air) or the tools of their various trades. One of figures on this canvas is recognizable, the broadest of the 5 standing to the far right of the frame. It’s Bulkington (from 14); notable among the minor differences in his reappearance on this canvas: his brickwork cofferdam of a chest beneath his unbuttoned pea-green monkey jacket is painted over in pale blue and yellow stripes, his fluid-blue visor-eye has been replaced with a green-grey balene-band. The figure standing on the far left of the canvas is clearly the “chief mate” (aka first mate), as there’s a large black 1 painted on his red/blue silough-shaped body; even its head is drawn in the shape of a large blocked number one, colored white: three hashmarks about a mouth, a slouch of red for a cap, with a furl of ink black eddying from the top of it. Whereas the coffer-dam chest of Bulkington walls up water within (as previously shown in the depths of the visor-eye featured in his individual portrait), the silough-bodied chief mate keeps the air in or rather keeps it out, the excess of what it can’t contain – whether absence or presence of a certain air – excreting in the form of black cloud that briefly forms the shape of a whale before breaking apart and rejoining the sky. 

The tallest figure, standing center canvas and occupying its full height is one of the other mates, second or third: I’m inclined to think third. Standing next to this figure, which is colored mostly brown, is a black silhouetted lance, its line spiraling around its shaft and disappearing behind the figure’s back. The figure’s proximity to the lance might represent a recent promotion since the implement whose use was reserved for those aboard the whaleboats deserving the honor and glory of the kill (if not the dart that secured it) – the lance – is not the shape of the tool emblazoned in blue on its body and protruding like a finial out of the top of its tubular head – that’s a harpoon. I read a story in the beady eyes of this tall illustrated whaleman where a long-darter of whales finally ships out a mate. Like the newly minted mate the squat blacksmith to its one side is imbued with the icons of its trade: a squared off slag red body is cut across by a yellow lightning bolt, flecked black. Upon the flat terracotta head featuring a double row of white block teeth and a black visor-eye is a chalice-shaped vessel with a row of white bubbles rising from its middle, like a quench. The figure standing to the other side of the third mate stands taller than the blacksmith but shorter than the rest; it’s draped in a powder blue coat with golden, fringed epaulets, pinned large about its middle is an emblem: a circle of golden cordage frames a black anchor against a field of seafoam green. The rounded head of this figure is colored white but a pattern of lines and circles gives it the appearance of riveted metal plates cut across by a red visor-eye; atop its head is a golden fin or frond resembling the horn of a gramophone or an ear trumpet. This would be the ship-keeper, who bore the responsibility for the ship’s movements and communications between the crew when the captain was away. The anchor emblem on the figure’s chest is nearly identical to the one spouted before the face of that right whale of a captain who Ishmael foresees ordering him “GET!” when he ships (in 4); it signals the singularity in the hierarchy of the whaleship’s power structure whereby it must distribute itself incrementally down the ladder of command, with the captain on top, whose “complete dominion” can transfer and indeed does frequently transfer to another, even one upon its lowest rung.

Presumably, Ishmael would’ve discovered after a certain brief period of casual conversation and repeated meetings the respective positions and occupations of the various whaleman about the Spouter Inn and is not claiming to be able to distinguish at sight their positions in the whaleship’s hierarchy and its division of labor when he sees them before his first breakfast in New Bedford. MK is in the opposite position of having to make the duties and specialized labors of the whaleman visible. Of course, there is no real urgency of his doing so here; he might have illustrated any number of charming lines for this page. I would suggest he chose this moment as a sort of practice run along the rungs of the whaleship’s hierarchy for his portraits to come of the main cast of “knights and squires,” tradesmen, servants, and men-before-the-mast comprising the crew of the Pequod. Before we even know that ship to be hiring crew, MK is working out how to conjure them.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 029

Title: They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers…
(11 inches by 8 inches; acrylic paint and ink on found paper; September 4, 2009)

Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 28

9/23/21, 1:52pm

28

MK’s “M.D. Aphorism #2 is an outgrowth of his “M.D. Aphorism #1”; it maps Ishmael a bit farther on the other side of his initially fearful and prejudicial reaction to recognizing (finally) who/what Queequeg is – namely, to use Ishmael’s word, a “cannibal” – where the previous aphorism isolated him just on the other side of that experience, not quite yet making perfect sense out of it. 

The shift in perspective between these pages of MD might concern Ishmael’s relationship to Peter Coffin more directly than his relationship to Queequeg. Ishmael’s curious regard for his appointed bedfellow is well remembered, but some of his ire was directed at the landlord of the Spouter Inn – their matchmaker – upon entering the room, candle in hand, with assurances of Queequeg’s harmlessness after Ishmael shouted for Coffin (and the angels) to come save him when Queequeg finally scares him out of hiding in the bed: “‘Stop your grinning,’ shouted I, ‘and why didn’t you tell me that that infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?’” Ishmael’s attitude about all Coffin’s “grinning” seems to have improved by the time he and Queeueg make their way to the bar-room of the Spouter Inn for breakfast in the light of day: “I cherished no malice towards him, though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow. However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing…” (Mr. Ready-to-walk-the-streets-knocking-people’s-hats-off-their-heads, accosts Coffin “pleasantly.”)

The shard array graphic upon which the last sentence of that quotation is written in small black capital letters in MK’s hand – a shard per word, isolating it as Aphorism #2 – has shifted from near-center canvas to the lower left quadrant, presumably to frame on the found page a black-and-white photograph in which a solitary individual with receding and ruffled black hair, dressed in a tweed jacket, buttoned white shirt, and dark tie is releasing a half-reluctant, toothed smile.* The centerpiece of the graphic of Aphorism #1 was a small dark sphere, jaggedly inked in black toward the center, its interior shaded grey; the shard array of Aphorism #2 has an identically colored but larger and differently shaped centerpiece: it’s a triangle, the greater area of which allows for greater detail in the black ink-work forming its perimeter. Here the uneven edging has a more consistent, distinctly rounded aspect, like stalactites dripping down into the grey zone of the trigon’s middle. 

The shards of the graphic for Aphorism #2 are near in number to the ones for Aphorism #1 (26 and 24, respectively), but here the shards are broader and shorter, and there are smaller shards overlaying the larger ones in the array. The most notable difference between the two graphics, however, is the coloring of the shards themselves: whereas in the graphic for Aphorism #1 there was one lone red shard extending toward the upper right corner of the canvas, in the array for Aphorism #2 there is one predominant red shard extending at roughly the same angle from the triangle’s perimeter, but there are also five other red shards surrounding the triangular centerpiece, and six other shards colored a shade of magenta that bolsters the red and blends it into the array. Apart from the red-magenta shards which visually dominate its scheme, 8 shards of yellow, 5 shards of green, and 4 more subtle shards of brown, complete the array. 

8:55pm

The cooler, blue-green blends of the shard array of Aphorism #1 give way to a prodimently warm array of reds and yellows combined with earthy tones of brown and green for the graphic in Aphorism #2. It’s the dawn of a new day in New Bedford, and Ishmael’s been altered. His attitude toward the “skylarking” of Coffin has softened; he’s more genial, able not only to recognize the teasing for what it is but laugh it off as well. His perception of Queequeg’s physical appearance goes from shocked and awed in the halflight of the private room at night to almost proud in the bar-room after break of day: “But who could show a cheek like Queequeg?” 

The emotional energy over-invested in the fearful response to Queequeg’s physical difference as to become separated from Ishmael’s own experiential recognition of his first encounter with Queequeg – indexed in the word “cannibal” in the text of MD, and color-coded red on the MK’s illustration of Aphorism #1 – bleeds into both major components of the illustration of Aphorism #2. In the shard array it manifests as a visual predominance of red and magenta, set off by earth tones: yellow, green, brown, in MD as Ishmael’s good natured love and kinship with his fellows: not just Queequeg, but Coffin too, and all the shy sailors gathered in the bar-room. He remarks on the men’s various sun-tans, reading the seasons and ports of call written in the various legend-bands of their skins. In MD Ishmael performs a verbal social contract with his fellow man to “spend and be spent” if it means for a “good joke,” opportunities to laugh being so evidently rare in his experience. But it’s that generic love, a common recognition of shared humanity, that seems the more pitifully rare experience for Ishmael. On the canvas it’s afforded a place in Ishmael’s identification with his own experience in those diagonal bars of red and magenta, like badges, amongst bars of yellow and brown in the legend-band inked above black-and-white photograph of the shyly smiling man. Triangular forms of matching shades stand atop the band, monuments to the alteration. 

Ishmael’s suddenly altered attitude toward Queequeg the night before, upon the greater light cast by Coffin in the room, extends to every body in the place in the greater light of day. MK’s aphorisms are a means of capturing Ishmael in an instar, illustrating him in a particular relationship to himself and his environment at a moment in the text of MD. Each illustrated aphorism is a map of a particular moment in the flow of Ishmael’s emo-intellectual disclosures; as a series they generate a map of his dynamism as a character in his own story and as the narrator of it, which is predicated on a series of nondisclosures. Between Aphorism #1 and Aphorism #2 a conceptual realignment has occurred – the wound of Aphorism #1 has morphed into a still gaping but load bearing structure in Aphorism #2, the building block of some future instar. The record of fact has been realigned to accommodate a redistribution in the record of feeling, but all that the text discloses is an unsmiling man finding a rare opportunity to laugh at himself.


*“And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.” – To confirm his identity I did a Google image search for Enrico Fermi, the man pictured smiling in the black-and-white photograph on the found page, framed between the legend-band and shard array, and while in many of the scrolling images the corners of his mouth are lifted, rarely are his teeth showing as they are in the photograph of him here, expect in photographs taken of him in his later years, this developer of the atomic bomb.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 028

Title: However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing…
(7 inches by 9.5 inches; ink on found paper; September 3, 2009)