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, 8


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.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 008

Title: …and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit.
(7.75 inches by 11 inches; ballpoint pen, colored pencil, ink and spray paint on found paper; August 13, 2009)