Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 37

10/5/21, 9:33pm


In MD, after Father Mapple ascends the side ladder to his pulpit, as if to make an “impregnable” island of himself upon it, he draws the ladder back up with him. This, at first, unaccountable action – since Mapple’s reputation for “sincerity and sanctity” prevents Ishmael imputing his behavior to any “tricks of the stage” – accomplishes, Ishmael resolves, a physical isolation to signify his “spiritual withdrawal,” the temporary suspension or removal of Mapple’s “worldly ties and connexion” to perform the sermon. 

10/6/21, 7:05am

MK’s disembodiment of Father Mapple makes his “spiritual withdrawal” from the worldly world more readily apparent as part abstraction. Still just a face, or the mere mask or skin of one shows facing forward from a greater distance. A boulder-shaped grey mass hovers just above the midway point of the found page: a long, thick black line is inked across its broad top in place of eyes; a short line just below its middle with a thin perpendicular forms a nose; and just below that a medium-sized line traverses its lower tapering end for a mouth. The thicker lines have smaller striated lines drawn into them from above and below in such a way that the pattern of linework which appears readily as a contoured face in the previous canvas looks like a stretched and displayed hide in this one. Surrounding the face is a colorless nimbus, irregular radiations of black ink defining its perimeter, as if the light source eclipsed shines black, the eclipsing body an emptiness around Father Mapple’s face.

In drastic contrast of texture and style, a detailed black-and-white photograph of a foremost part of a ship’s deck is featured prominently in the lower half of the found page. It’s not a whaler but a warship. Opened cannon turrets are visible along its sides. The effect of this illustration to signal Father Mapple’s physical ascension to his pulpit in the Whaleman’s Chapel while almost entirely dispossessing him of a body is accomplished in no small part by the presence of this photographed prow upon the found page. A loose vertical braid of three twisting bands of color – red, blue, and yellow* – extends from the foremost part of the ship’s deck into the upper margin of the canvas, passing behind the defacing face suspended in the ringed eclipse of a nimbus.

10/7/21, 4:42pm

The column of braided but untouching, unmixed bands of primary color forms an additional abstract masthead on the foremost part of the realistic ship. It’s planted on the deck just where, according to the suggestion of the caption on the found page, a ship’s chaplain might have lamented access to private toilets. It’s a monument to a phallic apparatus without direct physical counterpoint in the structural reality of the ship, where the chaplain wishes for room of his own in which to poop, some designated rung on the whaleship’s hierarchy. No earthly mast or spire extends to eternity as this ladder of Creation. Father Mapple stands spiritual masthead ashore in the Whaleman’s Chapel, done up in all its “sea taste,” where he used to spy for whales in his seagoing days. The standing of his avocation drives him to his knees sooner than would have done the standing watches of his vocation, not for age but for the immeasurable weight he bears as his spiritual role as “pilot of the living God.”

Either way, in MD, for all his removal from “worldly ties and connexions” Father Mapple’s body tires while he’s away. In MK’s illustration, however, there are no legs upon which he stands, nor knees upon which he can kneel, just a face stretched out like a pelt against ringed flare of black light, ready to beat like a drum against the tri-chord of primary color growing like a beanstalk to the heavens.

*Perhaps this is precisely the color palette to which the instars of Ishmael captured in MK’s MD Aphorisms tends.  

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 037

Title: Can it be, then, that by that act of physical isolation, he signifies his spiritual withdrawal for the time, from all outward worldly ties and connexions?
(7.75 inches by 11 inches; acrylic paint and ink on found paper; September 12, 2009)

Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 36

10/4/21, 5:26pm


Father Mapple is MK’s subject for this page of MD, a closeup, two-thirds view illustration of the face of the veteran-whaleman-turned-chaplain occupies the majority of the 9×11 inch found page, containing only a column of printed text almost entirely obscured by the ink and paint (you can still read: “today, / keel / the / stru / b / i […] p / Go”). Surrounding the face are charcoal-colored cloud formations, graphically shaped and opaquely painted. More nearly, their silhouettes shift from obtruding, eclipsing parts of the face in the lower and middle portions of the canvas to a solid band of color that the texture and color of Mapple’s face is showing through at the top: showing through the clouds, that is, but parting through them in their own proper shape. It’s a difficult visual effect to capture in language; the upshot is the visual identification, interplay, and hybridization between the spiritual figurehead of Father Mapple and the airy elements of which he partakes in the elemental visual spectrum of MK’s illustrations of MD. Mapple hasn’t just brought these clouds into the chapel with him from out of doors; they travel with him as atmospheric phenomena gathered on his brow.

Individual features of Mapple’s face are defined mostly by concentrations of striations and root-like strokes branching off a thick black line for a mouth, and banded cavity for eyes. Between, a triangular declivity juts over a pursed stiff upper lip. Where it is not outlined in black, the face is filled with a wash of grey that just allows the printed text on the found page to show through. Of course, MK’s linework evokes “the fissures of his wrinkles” that feature prominently in Mapple’s physical description in MD, but they also mimic the veiny linework of the whale’s body in 35. There, thin, root-like formations grow denser and more compacted where the tail tapers to the fluke, where the pectoral fin projects, and where the open wound gapes. Mapple’s face is abstracted by a mouth and eyes withheld from view: a self-effacing face, made of similar tried and true stuff as the shelter for hemorrhaging hope and ravenous faith projected onto and into the body of the whale in the previous canvas. Mapple’s body is an extension of the very atmosphere of the chapel. The proven face of weathered wood he wears to show there, as and for the whaleman or his widow. We see nothing more of his body, and his face is a mask on the air.

This is a stark contrast to the text of MD where Mapple is all body – an old guy in a “second flowering youth,” pretty spry. His “reverential dexterity” is most memorably remarked when he ascends the side ladder leading to his pulpit, but also everytime details about his appearance, bodily comportment, and facial expressions register, which is often, making him one of the most fully embodied characters in the book so far (second only to Queequeg). MK’s illustration of Father Mapple divests this spiritual figurehead of his physicality in order to emphasize his spiritual stature and the spiritual transformation to which it attests: the lower arch of his nimbus hung like gravity itself upon the unbending dried seawall of his brow, and blending his face, for all its hard weathering, with the clouds.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 036

Title: Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the whalemen, among whom he was a very great favorite.
(8 inches by 11 inches; acrylic paint and ink on found paper; September 8, 2009)

Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 23

9/16/21, 11:23pm


I recall fondly a stage of my (then 3yo) son’s linguistic development, when he spoke in the third person for a brief term and also at that time would interject the phoneme a- (“uh”) before his verbs to form sentences based around verbal tenses and grammatical conventions he had not yet assimilated; for example: “Mark a-goin to pway…” “Mark a-want a pawsicle…” “Mark a-wuv Mommy.” That speech pattern is not unlike the one Melville adopts to write Ishmael writing the dialect of Queequeg into the text of MD. Queequeg only rarely speaks in the third person, but a consistent linguistic idiosyncrasy of his is to insert the phoneme “ee” (like the one in his name), after many of his spoken words; for example: “Queequeg no kill-e so small-e fish-e; Queequeg kill-e big whale!” One effect of the dialect attributed to Queequeg is to infantilize him (as when Ishmael opines on his “transitional state”), but of course this babying is accompanied by so much evidence of Queequeg’s power and capability and humility that the effect is all but irresistibly endearing.

Caveat: I’m currently reading more about the New Zealand native cultures Melville appropriated information about (primarily via Wilkes) to curate the assembly of cultural attributes ascribed to Queequeg, and it does dampen the romance the more you consider the living peoples and traditions literally cannibalized to render this representation of one of the most widely beloved characters of MD, a cannibal.

MK choses to illustrate not the first words spoken by Queeqeg in MD but his second utterance, where many of the same words are repeated – “Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam-me, I kill-e!” Only those words that are bolded appear on the canvas, the ones capturing his verbal signature, formed in sharply blocked, black letters oriented vertically on a found page stacked with horizontally orientated charts, the wavelength of Queequeg’s verbiage growing perpendicular to their grain in 2-3 in. long leaflike formations (outlined neatly in the black marker) containing the fragments of his speech like peapods. The word pods are shot from white vines emanating at intervals from a column of interlaced blue scales composed by concentric bands of blue – Queequeg’s skin texture and tone in many (not all) of MK’s illustrations of him. The column of aquamarine swirl is centered on the found page with two protuberances in its sides in the upper third of the canvas, hollows in fact in the painted pattern, where a pair of pointilated red orbs float and stare.

Consider the difference it would have made to the effect of the canvas if MK had painted another example of Queequeg’s verbal idiom from this page, for instance, what he speaks when someone finally explains what Ishmael is doing in his room: “Me sabbee plenty.” To my eyes, the leafed aquamarine tower on the found page would serve just as well for that moment of restored calm as it does for what he utters while he flourishes his tomahawk in the dark toward the grunting body he’s discovered between his bed sheets, but the mood of the canvas would be altered radically by the presence of words other than those that command and threaten. The point of MK choosing the words he does is to capture Ishmael’s fear in the distorted view of the face and the partial recognition of the speech of the man who’s about to immediately put him at his perfect ease and melt his cold, cold heart.

Queequeg’s signature – the bold, red Q over the red infinity band – is in the lower left corner of the canvas.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 023

Title: “Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam- me, I kill-e!” again growled the cannibal…
(7.75 inches by 11 inches; ink, colored pencil and marker on found paper; August 27, 2009)