Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 37

10/5/21, 9:33pm

37

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

36

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, 34

10/2/21, 7:56am

34

Ishmael spends a fair amount of time contemplating the mourners in the Whaleman’s Chapel, their gazes fixed to the marble tablets inscribed with the names of whalemen lost to the chase. He rhapsodizes at length about why the living suffer the dead, especially the faithful, believing the departed in some otherworldly Paradise, “dwelling in unspeakable bliss,” “but the rumor of a knockinging in a tomb will terrify a whole city”? In the midst of this reflection – which could have inspired many dark and ponderous illustrations from MK, if he’d chosen another line* – Ishmael observes Queequeg sitting near him in the chapel, “a wondering gaze of incredulous curiosity in his countenance.” Queequeg’s awed expression seems addressed to environs of the chapel itself rather than its congregation, because he recognizes Ishmael among them: “This savage was the only person present who seemed to notice my entrance…” Noting Queequeg’s presence in the chapel – notably, the only person recognizing Ishmael – Ishmael’s language immediately registers Queequeg as out of place there – he’s “savage” here, not pagan – and he further isolates Queequeg on the basis of his supposed linguistic prowess by offering that it’s only because only Queequeg among those in the chapel cannot read (he assumes) and is therefore not reading the “frigid inscriptions” on the wall that he recognizes Ishmael. Ishmael recognizes Queequeg recognizes Ishmael while they both fail (according to Ishmael) to recognize the writing on the wall.

MK’s choice to illustrate this single instance of Queequeg being mentioned as a presence in “The Chapel” – or in the subsequent two chapters where “The Pulpit” is described at length and “The Sermon” of Father Mapple is recorded (After, it’ll be mentioned that he left sometime before the benediction.) – underscores the questionable necessity of Queequeg being inserted into this chapter at all, like a fish out of water. The “curiosity” of Queequeg’s gaze (as it’s given a noun by Ishmael) is consistent with an ethnographic posture toward Christendom that Ishmael will later impute to him.** MK’s interplay of illustration and found page highlights the wonder and incredulity of Queequeg’s countenance upon occupying the space of the chapel. 

On the upper half of the found page there is a black-and-white reproduction of what looks like a medieval-era engraving showing scenes in five panels. The interior space is defined in the engraving by a series of vaulted arches, most of them angled sharply toward their zenith, except for what appears to be the center arch (despite the cropping of the photo on the found page), which is more rounded and ornate and is raised just a little bit higher than the rest. Beneath this arched sits a tall, slouched figure in a tri-tipped crown, long robe and cape, sitting atop a sculpted and draped dais between parted curtains tied to the tall columns framing him. To his right and left smaller, dark clad figures are kneeled in positions of supplication and servitude: the one shown to the right looks up into the face of the master of the house with a long scroll in his hand; to the master’s left a stooped, robed youth with an abbot’s cut holds a page of notes. In the far right panel of the engraving four tall robed figures consult around a page, one of them declaiming to the rest. This image is left almost entirely unobscured by MK’s illustration. 

Below it, superimposed over the column of text printed on the found page, Queequeg’s face is drawn in its characteristic texture of concentrically lined scallop-shaped scales of aquamarine, his white almond-shaped eye sockets housing his hazy red, pointiliated eyes, which are turned up, as if gazing into the paneled scenes printed above from below. The red eyes are oriented not toward the master, however, but toward the margin. Most obvious when first regarding this canvas is the fact that Queequeg’s face is not rendered anatomically rounded or spherical, but rectangular and flat, like a blanket or a sheet. Or more likely a kite, since around the perimeter of this wavy edged rectangular shape, eleven silhouetted bird shapes lift off with eleven individual aquamarine strings that wind their ways in to the concentrically scalloped scales of Queequeg’s face.

The illustration isolates Queequeg in a “fish out of water” moment in “The Chapel,” but not in the stigmatizing fashion of Ishmael, who immediately resorts to cultural bias to account for Queequeg’s recognition of him in that space. While Queequeg has placed himself in the chapel by his own volition, MK’s illustration shows him captivated by the space, surrendered to its airy atmosphere: not in the passive way of a wet sheet on the line but in a willful, harmonious way, and in a way perhaps that carries him beyond it. Symbiotically, Queequeg’s bird friends fan him out to flap in the open sky of which so many vaulted ceilings are dim reminders. If they kept flying on their separate ways then the damp winding sheet of Queequeg’s tenure in the chapel would unravel him like a shawl. Good thing he leaves before the benediction. 

The red Q stamp and infinity band signature appears in the upper left corner of the canvas, superimposed over a portion of the engraving preserved on the found page where the exterior facade of the structure frames the reveal of its interior scenes.  


* e.g., “Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope

** “[I]n Queequeg’s ambitious soul, lurked a strong desire to see something more of Christendom than a specimen whaler or two.”

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 034
Title: …and turning sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near me. Affected by the solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze of incredulous curiosity in his countenance.
(7 inches by 9.5 inches; ink and marker on found paper; September 7, 2009)

Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 33

9/30/21, 9:01pm

33

After a walk to take in the streets of New Bedford, Ishmael sallies out a second time for a special visit to the city’s famed “Whaleman’s Chapel.” Upon entering the place, he notes as many “sailor’s wives and widows” as sailors among the small, scattered congregation. Each of the congregants appears isolated in an experience of grief. Ishmael notes their sense of loss as a matter of fact, as palpable to his eyes as as their “muffled silence” to his ears.

To illustrate this grieving archipelago MK arranges three of his white peglike figures along the lower margin of the canvas with only their heads exposed. Like the water gazers in 2 each of them faces a different direction, one left, one right, one forward. Unlike the water gazers, however, whose lidless, hazy eyes stare in every direction but landward, the grievers’ eyes are all drawn passively closed like the dreamer in 15. The two peglike figures turned profile have large individual teardrops dangling like jewels from the drape-lines of their eyes. Previously, I extemporized that the water gazers were magnetically drawn to the water in proportion to how sealed off they are from it, like buoys. The extremity of grief lodged in the Whaleman’s Chapel – that specially unresolveable grief specially reserved for the “placelessly perished” – draws water from the driest of dowels.

The isolated griefs are minimized by the features of the canvas dedicated to MK’s rendering of the space of Whaleman’s Chapel itself. The 8×9 inch found page is occupied almost entirely by a closeup black-and-white photo of a section of brick wall, marred and uneven in its finish and adjoining what appears to be an industrial weather-sealed concrete surfacing, dark in color. On the fifth brick down from the topmost brick in the frame, the words “I need” are chalked in an informal cursive. The seven bricks below this one are void of writing as the ones above it, but the words scrawled on the fifth brick leave you projecting on the bricks below, above, and all around – like a spreadsheet – various scrolling lists of nouns and verbs and prepositional phrases that would answer to “I need…” In front of the original street art in the photograph, before the chalk washed away, you’d have the whole wall.  

That is, if you look past the painting that forms the canvas’s foreground. On level with where the grieving pegheads enter the frame so too does a towering cross extending halfway up the height of canvas, formed of broad, partially transparent canary yellow brush strokes, dotted over with 9 daubs of opaque white paint, up and across, crossing at the third and fifth dot respectively. Over the upper third of the found page, irrespective of the cropped photograph of the brick wall, are capital letters formed not by lines but individual semi-opaque daubs of yellow spelling the name JESUS.

In MD the scattered silent islands of people assembled in the Whaleman’s Chapel all gaze upon marble tablets engraved with the names of the placelessly perished, drawing their eyes toward the walls of the space that contains their respective insular and incommunicable griefs as a congregation. The heads of MK’s peg people are all turned away from the wall. In fact, they’re painted on a plane and a scale that defies the margin of the wall’s appearance, as the name above them is spelled across that margin: a constellation of isolated dots, taken from a cross and put up on high. Sometimes there’s no faith but for that of a space. Never is there space but for that of a faith.

Matt Kisk
MOBY-DICK, Page 033

Title: Each silent worshipper seemed purposely sitting apart from the other, as if each silent grief were insular and incommunicable.
(8 inches by 9 inches; acrylic paint and ink on found paper; September 7, 2009)