In Greek mythology, the god Aeolus kept powerful winds holed up in a cavern of his island’s interior and once gave Odysseus some in a to-go bag to help get him home sooner, which of course didn’t work out. Ishmael appropriates the Greek name eurokludōn [εὐροκλύδων] – literally: north-east wind – to characterize the icy, howling gale ripping through the city streets by night when he arrives to New Bedford, but the literary investiture of this mighty wind in MD is clearly derived more from the New Testament, where it shipwrecks Paul.
MK’s vision of Euroclydon is much less dramatic and drastic than Ishmael’s. The wind itself is depicted in the lower-right quadrant of the canvas as a fluid, billowing cloud – colored flat, without outline, and serenely blue – pouring out of a spout-like flange in the upper-left quadrant of the canvas, drawn in blue ink against the exposed, predominantly white found page. The flange head features a hardline unibrow and a circular mane of waving, blue-tipped tufts and appears to protrude from a striped tube snaking its way out of frame atop the canvas. It puts me in mind of one of the cybernetic arms of Doctor Octopus, emitting a spooge of Euroclydon as from the fake flower on a clown’s lapel.
The peglike buoy figure of the water gazers in 2 returns in MK’s rendering of the “black Angel of Doom” Ishmael witnesses “beating a book” before a congregation in the “negro church” whose service he rudely interrupts then cruelly mocks before eventually finding his proper place at the Spouter Inn in New Bedford. The water gazers in 2 appear sexless and featureless apart from their beaky noses, hazy grey eyes, and multi-colored, -patterned wrappings. This canvas suggests that the figures are racialized, as this one is painted jet flat black from its smooth rounded head to the point where its tubular body vanishes behind a small brown pulpit uplifting a small book. The hazy, pointilated eyes are red, and a pair of large wings extend lifted from its sides, composed mostly of neatly layered small scallop shapes colored in various shades of maroon, grey, pink, black, and white (The wings have another texture where they meet the figure’s body: long slender U-shaped forms are colored in various shades of grey and black). A light, metallic grey spray-painted cross appears afront the black figure and a likewise painted nimbus crowns its head, framed between the uplifted wings.
The peglike figures seem to be MK’s answer to rendering the nameless landlubbers who populate the early pages of MD. This one is given prominence as the sole occupant of the canvas and by its great wings, but its most distinguishing and important feature is the one that differentiates it from the water gazers in 2: its blackness. Ishmael’s attitude (mock-revolted, dismissive) toward the congregation and pastor at the Black church is far from generous – indeed it’s dehumanizing – and MK chooses his moment on this cringeworthy page of MD to wrest some compromise between what Ishmael reports seeing and what he sees Ishmael seeing. Such compromises are fraught under the weight of US history. I’m anxious to witness how and where he chooses to grapple with illustrating Ishmael’s (and Melville’s) often racist characterizations of Black persons especially as the book goes on, having only begun myself with this “Angel of Doom” to sense the burden of (ir)responsibility that follows hard upon returning them into words. What is “doing justice” to a book like this, when it’s an injustice to some?
On the very edges of broad horizontal arms of the cross, where they extend past the tubular black body, you can make out traces of the scalloped lines composing the Angel’s wings beneath: a clue to the order in which the elements were created to compose this canvas – a detail I love.
First collage of the book, by virtue of yellowish green, rectangular cartoon affixed to the bottom of the found page (finally figured out from the printing on this page that the book being repurposed for these canvases is a systems manual for a Philco Chassis radio). The cartoon shows a man with his hand glued to a cabinet or window with another person (maybe a woman) behind, grasping his shoulders, trying to help him pry it off, the glue stretching between the man’s palm and the object’s surface: he appears panicked and pained, both appear strained. The cartoon forms a kind of band across the wrist of a rudimentary hand outlined with a medium-thick black pencil line, shaded grey, which occupies the majority of the canvas. Three irregular splotches of silver spray paint are added to the center of the canvas, representing the “few silver pieces” Ishmael retrieves from his pocket as he considers lodging options upon first arriving to wintry, tempestuous New Bedford.
Without the cartoon, the painting would register as a rather literal rendering of this page of MD compared to the canvases that have come before. The comical image of the man in a sticky situation belies the seriousness of Ishmael’s predicament – arriving to an unfamiliar place after nightfall with “little to no money in [his] purse” and facing a icy, restless night on the city street unless he finds shelter soon – but this is precisely the aptness of the collage. For all his vulnerability upon arriving to New Bedford, Ishmael casually, jokingly, even mockingly surveys his prospects before finally finding hospitality in the Spouter Inn.
MK’s illustrations are keenly attentive to the humor of MD; his choice of line often reveals his attraction to it. The line from the book that inspired this illustration is not the most overly funny line in the book up to this point, but this is one of the first overtly comical illustrations owing mainly to the element of collage.