The New Art of Moby-Dick
A sequel to my 1995 book, Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth-Century Art, this essay examines American and international art created in response to the novel from 1995 to 2018. Beginning with the numerous transformations of Moby-Dick—the whole book, single chapters, or letters—into works of art, I then consider recent illustrated editions, including children's books, comic books, and entire volumes. Contemporary artists have responded prolifically to the White Whale as "the ungraspable phantom of life" through a variety of realistic and abstract forms as well as through a diversity of media new to visual renderings of Melville's book. I take up the work of numerous Moby-Dick artists who, in recent decades, have interpreted Melville's story from personal, psychological, political, environmental, and feminist perspectives. In the last section, I examine four contemporary artists—Robert Del Tredici, Aileen Callahan, Mark Milloff, and Matt Kish—who have dedicated much of their artistic careers to interpreting Moby-Dick.
George Cotkin's scintillating Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick (2012) correlates each of the novel's 135 chapters with an object or event from popular culture. Such a format validates Cotkin's general observation about contemporary America that "we have become a largely visual culture." He goes on to ask specifically and provocatively in relation to Moby-Dick "how well and widespread the novel has been reformulated in visual terms" (104). Certainly, Melville's Sub-Sub Librarian knew from the beginning of Moby-Dick how widespread interpretations of whale lore were in the nineteenth and earlier centuries. After all, he had searched "the long Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to whales," whatever had "been promiscuously said, thought, fancied, and sung of Leviathan, by many nations and generations, including our own" (xvii). And Ishmael's discourse in chapters 55, 56, and 57 provides ample evidence of his particular consciousness of whales visually represented "in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars" (269). [End Page 7]
Something of a Sub-Sub Librarian myself, I started searching the globe for images of whales in the 1970s, beginning in Japan. This resulted in an essay published in The North American Review in 1982, titled "Eye on the Whale: A Japanese Perspective," discussing the diversity of cetacean images in Japanese culture. Back teaching in the US, I found my students began bringing me visual manifestations of Moby-Dick in cartoons, posters, knick-knacks, T-shirts, ball caps, baby-carriers, pendants, perfume bottles, sprinklers, not to mention photographs of three-legged dogs named Ahab, calico cats named Queequeg, fish shacks, bars, restaurants, and sail boats, all named Moby Dick. My book, Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth-Century American Art, published in 1995 after ten years of searching the long Vaticans and street stalls of the United States in particular, charts the diversity of American art created over the last century in response to Melville's novel. The first International Melville Society Conference in Volos, Greece, in 1997, introduced me to Athanasius Christodoulou, Greece's superlative translator of Melville's works in words and images (Schultz, "Seeing Moby-Dick Globally," 415–16; "Visualizing Race," 29–32) and my search for Moby-Dick images went global.
Googling "Moby Dick" and then focusing on "Moby Dick Art," "Moby Dick Gifts," "Moby Dick Decor," "Moby Dick on Pinterest," "Moby Dick on Etsy," one now finds thousands of visual manifestations of Moby-Dick. Etsy organizes its Moby-Dick offerings into categories: Art and Collectibles, Home and Living, Jewelry, Books and Movies, Clothing, Craft Supplies, and Accessories. Most of the items promoted online are American, but many are from around the world. In addition, I doubt that any other work of American literature appears more frequently in advertisements and political cartoons or is spoofed more regularly in The New Yorker than Moby-Dick, both in cartoons and on its cover. Serious artists in the US and abroad—some well-established, others young and innovative—continue to commit themselves in a wide variety of media and styles to interpreting Melville's novel visually. Since 1995, numerous scholars, teachers, and art historians have also joined me in publishing books, writing essays, teaching classes,1 and organizing exhibitions,2 demonstrating the astonishing range of art works created in response to Moby-Dick—from Germany, Greece, Italy, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, England, Poland, Brazil, Russia, Japan, China, and recently India (Schultz, "Seeing Moby-Dick Globally"). Most of these nations have distinctive illustrated editions of Moby-Dick; Japanese artists have created diverse manga narratives of Moby-Dick; Germany has a long tradition of illustrated editions of Moby-Dick as well as of free-standing art works inspired by the book; China is beginning to respond to the novel visually. Moby-Dick has long had a widespread, indeed a global, visual presence. [End Page 8]
As if demonstrating Moby-Dick's global and visual presence, several artists have cartographically rendered the Pequod's engirdling course.3 Although Ishmael may have commented that Kokovoko "is not down on any map; true places never are" (55), these artists map the novel's narrative visually. In 2001, in a palimpsestic photomontage, Kevin Sprague superimposed an image of Moby Dick onto the Berkshire mountains and a map of the world onto the sky above his image of the mountains and the whale (Fig. 1). Sprague's work conjures Melville's imagination as he might have looked up, while in the process of composing Moby-Dick, to see Mt. Greylock "very like a whale" through his study window and to see Moby Dick's course through the world's seas and into the skies. Kathleen Piercefield's 2006 map, done in color on parchment and replicated in John Bryant and Haskell Springer's critical edition of Moby-Dick, indicates each of the Pequod's gams as well as the ship's significant encounters with the spirit spout, squid, brit, the Grand Armada, and the typhoon (638–39). A less complex map of the Pequod's voyage, printed in blue, folds out from the Wattis Institute's catalogue of their 2009 exhibition of Moby-Dick art. The end pages for Andrew Glass's 2012 children's picture book of Moby-Dick reveal that Moby Dick's hieroglyphic skin is also cartographic, and in Evan Dahm's 2017 edition, a black-and-white map, delineating the Pequod's voyage, leads the viewer literally off the page at the book's conclusion. Tellingly, these recent maps of the Pequod's global cruise not only show the interconnectedness among all oceans and cultures, but also shift the Americas from their too often centralized position in maps of the world to foreground Pacific nations, as Melville did himself in constructing his narrative.
If it is not difficult to show how widespread Moby-Dick representations are globally, it is more difficult to respond to Cotkin's question regarding how well Melville's novel has been visually reformulated. In the novel's three chapters dedicated to the art of depicting whales, Ishmael evaluates a wide range of cetacean representations and is quick to perceive one illustration as "an amputated sow," another as "a squash" (262). He concludes, however, that "the living Leviathan has never yet fairly floated himself for his portrait. The living whale, in his full majesty and significance, is only to be seen in unfathomable waters" (263). Whether any artist has been fully and justly able to represent Melville's great and unfathomable novel remains equally questionable.
In 1940, F. O. Matthiessen expressed his conviction that in his writing Melville struggled with "the problem of plentitude" (412), of representing life itself in all of its mysterious, mutable, and manifold variations. In Moby-Dick, whales became Melville's personal vehicle for attempting to grasp this "ungraspable phantom of life" (5). Philip Hoare attributes the novel's appeal to so many contemporary artists across the world to the fact that it "is conjured [End Page 9]
out of the air and the sea. . . . Its oceanic reach and perverse digressions provide endless sources of inspiration and interpretation" (Hoare). Following Melville's process, in this essay I, too, attempt "the classification of the constituents of a chaos" (134): the classification of visual representations of Moby-Dick since 1995. I identify the predominant ways in which artists from numerous nations, working from the end of the twentieth-into the second decade of the twenty-first century, have grappled with "the ungraspable phantom of life"—Melville's multi-faceted, multi-nuanced, multi-dimensional vision of life. In the first section of this essay, I examine contemporary artists' intense interest in recreating Moby-Dick by transforming the physical book into new aesthetic objects: children's books, comic books, reworkings of its cover, individual chapters, and printed text. By focusing on the book's physical size or its punctuation marks, these artists perhaps respond to the book's metaphysical heft by encouraging readers to experience its physical texture. The second section discusses artistic portrayals of the novel in traditional, free-standing forms such as paintings and sculptures, noting in particular that in the past two decades artists have depended on unusual materials and sizes for their representations. In section 3, I address artists' continuing exploration of Moby-Dick's dramatis [End Page 10] personae, and in sections 4–6 my concern is with their interpretation of the novel in relation to personal and psychological concerns, to environmental and political concerns, and to feminist issues. The final section of this study identifies four significant artists who have made and continue to make Melville's ungraspable novel a primary force and focus of their career-long work.
The Book as Art
In 1995, the appendix of Unpainted to the Last listed thirty-one unabridged, illustrated editions of Moby-Dick as well as forty-four abridged or adapted editions with illustrations. In the last twenty-three years, however, I am aware of only two unabridged, illustrated editions of Moby-Dick that have been published in English or any other language. Both are handsome and hefty, with Evan Dahm's 2017 edition measuring 7 1/4 x 10 x 3 inches and the 2018 Pegasus edition measuring 8 3/4 x 11 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches. The Dahm edition, with snow white covers, its paper edges stained black, fits into a black slip-cover on which an image of Moby Dick, glistening white, rises up supreme. Relying on a Kickstarter campaign to underwrite and promote his edition, Dahm clearly planned and produced it with the intention of contributing to a tradition of aesthetically memorable editions of Melville's novel. In his online promotional material, he provides images from earlier editions of Moby-Dick, intentionally locating his book in relation to previous Melville illustrators, including A. Burnham Shute, Rockwell Kent, Mead Shaffer, Raymond Bishop, Ronald Shore, and Barry Moser. In contrast to the Dahm edition, the Pegasus edition with illustrations by Russian artist Anton Lomaev, with its primary focus on portraits and action scenes in color from unusual perspectives, seems to reference technicolor film versions of Moby-Dick.
Dahm explains that his fifty-three illustrations, done in pen-and-ink, are "densely cross-hatched," "deliberately reminiscent of scrimshaw" and seek to evoke an "old feeling" (Dahm). The diverse and dramatic perspectives in his illustrations, however, are distinctly twenty-first century, taking the viewer up into the masthead, thrusting her into the whale's jaw, allowing her to watch Queequeg from above as he carves his coffin lid, and again allowing her to observe from above the erasure of Queequeg's designs by tar as his coffin is transformed into a life buoy. When the Pequod heads out to sea following chapter 22 "Merry Christmas," Dahm surprisingly inserts a two-page drawing, showing the ship from a gull's perspective, and on the third day of the chase, he once more gives his readers a two-page view, this time from the three mastheads as the White Whale churns toward the ship. The sense of isolation and abandonment evoked by Queequeg's coffin, adrift in an empty sea, [End Page 11] is intensified by the absence of Ishmael, a circumstance seldom depicted by Moby-Dick's illustrators. It is as if indeed "The drama's done" (Moby-Dick 573), and the narrator, now altogether out of the picture, looks back elegiacally on his memory of the journey.
In contrast to Dahm's edition, the Pegasus edition is a coffee-table book, too heavy to hold while reading. Among Lomaev's 55 full- and double-page color pictures are thoughtful images of Queequeg and Ishmael facing each other in bed while the White Whale soars above them and of a desperate Pip pulling on Ahab's arm as he rebuffs the desperate cabin boy in his determination to pursue Moby Dick. While Lomaev excels in depicting ships at sea, whales are scarce in this edition with the exception of the end papers, which, duplicated in a double-spread preceding the Epilogue, illustrate a cetological array of swimming whales. Oddly the portrait accompanying the Epilogue seems to be that of Aunt Charity, with a harpoon in one hand and her ginger jar in the other. While Dahm's work is a stunning addition to the roster of powerful illustrated editions of Moby-Dick, www.worldcat.org reveals that all other illustrated editions of Melville's novel published since 1995 in multiple languages are previous versions that have been modified for juvenile readers. Thus, despite the recent publications of Dahm's outstanding illustrated edition and of the Pegasus edition, it seems we are losing the illustrated novel in general and the unabridged, illustrated edition of Moby-Dick in particular as we become a global, visual culture, dependent on Nooks, Kindles, and other e-books.
Since 1995, children's picture books of Moby-Dick in the US have been published with some regularity and in distinctive styles, with some editions now being advertised as available for babies. Jack and Holman Wang in 2012 created a Cozy Classics of Moby-Dick that relies on twelve words and photographs taken of stuffed toys to represent the novel's characters. The key words are Sailor, Boat, Captain, Leg, Mad, Sail, Find, Whale, Chase, Smash, Sink, and Float. Using a few more words, Jennifer Adams published in 2014 her version of Moby Dick: A Baby Lit Ocean Primer, with cartoons drawn by Alison Oliver. Well-known French children's book illustrator Joëlle Jolivet, on her website, calls her 2010 edition of Moby Dick, "a monster of a book, despite having only ten pages" (Jolivet). With translations, a preface, and captions by France's most distinguished Melville scholar, Philippe Jaworski, this book opens horizontally to show blocks of text, with each line centered and set in diverse fonts to resemble nineteenth-century posters, each facing Jolivet's bold and dynamic linocuts of selected well-known scenes from the opening and the conclusion of the novel. In addition, these illustrated texts have been set into the book to create 3-D dioramas that appear to leap out of the book toward the viewer with each turn of the page. In Randall Enos's 2014 series of flamboyant, [End Page 12] multi-colored linocut designs for Mocha Dick: The Legend and the Fury, the whale alone is important; Sam Ita's 2007 interactive 3-D Moby-Dick pop-up book is ingenious and surprising; and Andrew Glass's 2012 picture book is comical and lively. Victor Ambrus's 1996 and Patrick Benson's 2006 Moby-Dick illustrations are especially noteworthy for their sensitivity to cultural and racial differences among the Pequod's crew (Schultz, "Visualizing Race"). Most recently, the 2017 BabyLit Storybook version of Moby-Dick for children three to five, retold by Mandy Archer with drawings by Annabel Tempest, while reducing Melville's text to a minimum of words, evocatively depends upon images to reveal what is unspoken. Notably, while Pip is not mentioned by name, he appears early in the visual text as a happy-go-lucky African boy and in later pages as a very frightened child, held tenderly by Daggoo. Tempest, however, dispels the mounting tension in this child's version of Moby-Dick by assigning the Pequod a smiling mermaid bowsprit.
Japan's popular manga tradition includes five cartoon books and several TV animations based on Moby-Dick. (The remarkable Moby-Dick manga of Katsuhiro Otomo and Kotobuki Shiriagari will be discussed later in this essay.) In these Moby-Dick comics, words slash across pages, imitating the sounds of flying harpoons, blood oozing, ships sinking. Relying on manga conventions of exaggerated gestures and facial features, they emphasize the emotional and dramatic moments in the novel. While the first manga Moby-Dick was published in 1963, the second version featuring illustrations by Joya Kagemaru and textual adaptations by Ikki Kajiwara and originally serialized in Japan's Weekly Boys Magazine in 1968, was republished in 2004 as a large (7 1/4 x 10 1/2 in.) 160-page book with colored pages inserted. Here bloody episodes appear in red, tranquil moments in green. The influence of John Huston's 1956 film version of the novel seems apparent in the resemblance of Kagemaru and Kajiwara's Ahab to Gregory Peck. Ishmael, however, throughout this manga narrative remains a small, bright-eyed boy who is often perplexed, his eyes popping and sweat visibly leaping from his brow. With boldly colored pages notably depicting the novel's culminating scenes, Kagemaru and Kajiwara heighten its climax. The last image in the narrative, however, is one of black-and-white calm as the immense White Whale rises from the sea, and Ishmael, who is unseen, interprets his appearance for the manga's reader, "White Whale, ahh. I wonder if he's just a big white whale or the white spirit, who controls the Seven Seas. I don't know which one he might be" (152). A small (4 x 6 in.) Variety Artworks manga, appearing in 2009 with 180 pages, manages to emphasize the novel's dramatic scenes and the insanity of its characters even more intensely than Kagemaru and Kagiwara, despite its smaller size, by using diagonal borders between pictures, bizarre perspectives, and the characters' [End Page 13] open mouths, signifying that, constantly screaming, they are in a perpetual state of fear and awe.
Although I know of no children's or comic-book version of Moby-Dick in Chinese, three children's versions of Melville's novel have appeared in Russian, prior to 1995, each with stunning illustrations.4 In 2013, an Indian crew of artists and letterers, headed by Lalit Kumar Singh, produced Moby-Dick as a graphic novel in English under the Campfire imprint in New Delhi. In an attempt to suggest the crew's ethnic diversity, Daggoo appears in dreads, the Asians in conical hats, and Queequeg with a variety of full-body geometrical tattoos (40, 75). A full page is dedicated to Queequeg's backstory, emphasizing not his noble, cannibal past but his struggles to adapt to a degraded European lifestyle (14). Singh is less successful in depicting Ahab, whose scar often seems a flowing tear (40, 68) and whose flashing teeth, too often, become synecdoches for his anger (59, 65, 78). Singh's strength, like that of many comic-book illustrators, is as an action artist, with conventional images of the chaotic destruction of the ship and of Ahab's demise. Moby Dick appears as a blimp (51, 74). Only on the cover does the White Whale, sighted through a lens in the Pequod's hull, become a mysterious, living being.
In 2017, publishers in Spain, France, and the US printed stunning graphic novels of Moby-Dick, with large pages (8 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.) and dramatic illustrations, done in black-and-white. These works differ emphatically, however, suggesting the range of contemporary visual readings of Melville's novel and raising the Moby-Dick comic book to a new aesthetic level. Focused on Ishmael's intense engagement in the narrative, the black-and-white images of these works are nonetheless set within conventional comic book rectangles on each page. José Ramón Sánchez's interest in Moby-Dick began in 2001 with a series of sketches that appear haunted by the White Whale, resulting finally in his 154-page work done in graphic pencil. Using black ink for his drawings, Christophe Chabouté first published his two-volume graphic novel of Moby-Dick in France in 2014 (Editions Glénat/Vents d'Ouest) and then in an English translation as a single volume in 2017 (Dark Horse Books). Whereas Sánchez's images, dependent on cross-hatching and smudging, are more nuanced, impressionistic, and infused with mystery than Chabouté's, Chabouté's images are bolder and more dramatic. Weather plays a prominent role in Sánchez's drawings, whereas Chabouté's images are silhouetted against a white or black background. While Sánchez introduces skulls into his clouds and ghostly fingers pointing at the Pequod, creating an ominous, mystical atmosphere of doom in his version of Moby-Dick, Chabouté's nautical knowledge of a nineteenth-century whale ship, its hardware, and its multiplicity of hawsers and lines conveys the ship's claustrophobic nature as well as the complexity and [End Page 14] difficulty of the whaling business. Both artists dispense with the lurid colors of conventional comic book art and highlight essential aspects of Melville's novel, with Sánchez transforming it into a Gothic tale and Chabouté into a Zen picture book.
Notably these artists omit Melville's cetological chapters and Ishmael's contemplative commentary, dividing their narrative into titled sections. With a wordless first page, Sánchez plunges his readers into the novel's conclusion with an image of the Pequod's crew desperately flailing underwater. This opening is then followed by Ishmael's staring through a telescope at New Bedford while a great sperm whale floats in the night sky above him. Later, Sánchez gives us Ishmael in the masthead, again with a telescope, with the object of his vision drawn for us. We must decide if it is the swirling sea or the eye of a whale. Chabouté, who divides his Moby-Dick narrative into thirty-one sections, each opening with a title page and an evocative quotation from the novel, begins with three wordless pages. Each depicts four horizontal panels with an edge of grass at the bottom. On his first page, a silhouetted figure appears, walking; he vanishes, and gulls appear, indicating the near presence of the sea. In the following pages, Ishmael emerges as an individual, plunged into the darkness of a winter night in New Bedford, the town's congestion conveyed by numerous, diversely sized, crowded frames. Snow is indicated by smudging the dark buildings and heaped casks.
Melville's characters and their range of emotions are more successfully represented in Sánchez's drawings than in Chabouté's. Chabouté's designation of intense feeling is often represented by staring pupils, especially in his depictions of Ahab, creating the effect of caricature, while Sánchez emphasizes the diversity among Melville's characters. He devotes two full side-by-side pages to Daggoo and Tashtego, showing them towering over Stubb and Flask, thus emphasizing the pagan harpooneers' nobility. Two other full pages are blocked out in eighteen squares resembling passport photos, showing eighteen ethnically diverse crew members. Significantly and touchingly, Sánchez fully illustrates the roles of both Pip and Fleece in Melville's drama, with a full range of crew members coming forth to read the meaning of the gold doubloon that Ahab has nailed to the mast, a scene rarely depicted in illustrated editions of Moby-Dick. Although Chabouté's representations of Queequeg as well as of Fedallah and his phantom crew are drawn with careful attention to racial differentiations, the absence of Daggoo, Fleece, and Pip from this pictorial narrative of Moby-Dick reduces his reader's awareness of Melville's keen attention to racial differences and of racism as a paramount concern in the novel.5
While Sánchez's images silently convey the emotional response of his individual characters (Queequeg dancing jubilantly in his skivvies following [End Page 15] his revival from sickness; the calm appearance of Starbuck's beloved wife and child as he speaks with Ahab), entire sections of Chabouté's work are wordless: "Loomings," the days and nights before Ahab makes his appearance on the quarterdeck, the suspenseful moments before he produces the doubloon, "Cutting In," "The Musket," "The Chase—The Third Day," and "The Epilogue." In these sections, Chabouté's incisive pen-and-ink line drawings are enlarged, re-arranging the page's space. His pictorial sequence of seven wordless pages for "Cutting In" successfully conveys the crew's manic work. In diversely sized frames, first "cutting in" is done by the sharks alongside the ship and then, in rapid sequence of detailed image after image, the men labor mechanically to reduce an immense whale to oil. This soundless work, created with lines, rigging, ropes, arms intersecting and stretching, appears dangerous, endless, and claustrophobic. Only on the last page of this section do words appear—"Drop the carcass"—and impressively, as the ship gradually diminishes in the final panels, the whale's carcass becomes an island adrift, attracting countless gulls.
Chabouté's drawings for "The Chase—The Third Day," almost inevitably chosen as a subject by Moby-Dick illustrators, are as powerful as any I know. Two pages showing Moby Dick's first chaotic impact upon the ship—a swirling, flying mass of ropes, timbers, and men—are followed by a series of precise images: the drowning of Queequeg, Ahab, Starbuck, and then the ship itself sinking. Finally, in a seven-page series of first horizontal and then vertical images, Moby Dick appears, wrapped round with Ahab's harpoon line. In the final images in this section, however, we see Ahab snared in his own white line, dragged deeper into the dark sea and becoming increasingly smaller, panel by panel, at last vanishing into a totally black page. Sánchez's version of Melville's conclusion is similar to Chabouté's with four vertical panels revealing Moby Dick's descent into a deepening ocean, trailed by Ahab. Each of his final four panels is accompanied by words, "En el negro/ . . . abismo/ . . . oceanico/ . . . de la muerte" (152–53), translating the conclusion. Given that Sánchez alerts viewers to Ishmael's survival at the outset of his visual narrative, his last page depicts Ishmael at a desk, writing, his sailor's cap on a hook, a harpoon in the corner, and ships with furled sails to be seen out the window. Chabouté's Epilogue, however, dramatically shifts the viewer's vision. Moving from vertical to horizontal, it gives us Ishmael's gradual appearance on the coffin, his back turned toward us as if he is looking for the lost ship. Chabouté, like Gene Scheer, the librettist for the 2010 Moby-Dick opera, pointedly and effectively assigns Melville's opening words—"Call me Ishmael"—to his conclusion, implying that Ishmael, having witnessed the depths of human experience, can now know and name himself. [End Page 16]
In sequential issues in June 2017, The New York Times Book Review published three lively Moby-Dick drawings by Sergio García Sánchez, a Spanish illustrator of numerous children's books in Spanish and in English, each compressing diverse well-known scenes and characters from Moby-Dick into a single page. Titled "Moby-Dick, Part I: Call Me Ishmael"; "Moby-Dick, Part II: The Sharkish Sea"; and "Moby-Dick, Part III: The Chase," each page presents the novel's characters simultaneously engaged in multiple activities. In Part I, as Ishmael goes about his orientation to whaling with Queequeg in New Bedford, the whale, evoked by Father Mapple's sermon, looms over the town, dominating the upper portion of the page and seemingly trivializing the minute human activities occurring beneath it. With innumerable ghostly faces hovering within its body, the Whale's ominous presence overwhelms the human figures, including that of Ahab, who appears larger than others as he leans into the picture from the right-hand side. Sánchez's second image is a cutaway of the whale ship with various iconic scenes from Moby-Dick occurring in and around the ship simultaneously. Thus, we see Ahab nailing the doubloon to the mast, dropping his pipe overboard, and waiting for his phantom crew to board his whale boat, while at the same time Queequeg rescues Tashtego, lies in his coffin, and hunts whales. Midships, a sailor delineates several species of whales on a white canvas, one under the other, as if they might be shown on a cetological chart, while Ishmael crouches in the masthead at the top of the page, observing the scene below. For his final page, Sánchez fuses the Pequod with the White Whale. Episodes from the novel's concluding chapters occur simultaneously as the ship disintegrates and splinters into multiple planks, with its crew in upheaval. Ahab appears in diverse corners of the picture, attempting to restore order, while Ishmael hunkers alone on Queequeg's coffin in the picture's lower right-hand corner, the entire image becoming an explosive nightmare for him. The bulky whale, bearing the burden of the disintegrating ship, hovers above him, the complex and chaotic object of his contemplation.
Among the many entries one may discover in an online search for visual allusions to Moby-Dick are numerous attempts at creating an appropriate cover for Melville's novel, supporting the notion that one might tell a book by its cover. Most of these covers assume that a Big Whale signifies a Big Book with a Big Subject. In the most frequent designs for a new Moby-Dick cover, either the White Whale fills the entire space or is depicted rising up ominously beneath a minuscule Pequod which hovers above it. Noteworthy among recent covers are those by Luke Pearson, Robin Ng, and Tony Millionaire, each of whom puts the Pequod in relationship to the White Whale.6 Pearson shows the two as separated by a diagonal, with the ship in red and white, the whale in black [End Page 17] and white and the title written on the diagonal line between them. Ng's cover places a minute silhouette of the ship at the tip of the White Whale's massive head from which an eye stares out at the prospective reader. For the front cover of a new Signet edition, Millionaire's Moby Dick leaps into the heavens above the Pequod's rigging. On the back cover is the whale's head and staring eye, this time with a tear in it. Millionaire also created paired flaps for his book cover, the front showing Queequeg's tattooed body, his hands clutching an oar, and the back showing Ishmael in nineteenth-century seaman's garb, also clutching an oar. Neither, however, reveals his face, only a pair of strong hands: they embrace the novel.
None of these recent cover illustrations, however, approaches the stunning cover created by English bookbinder extraordinaire Philip Smith in 1989–90. In sumptuous leather covers for a copy of the Arion Press's 1979 edition of Moby-Dick, Smith carved Ahab's face as merging with and flowing into the sea. A 2010 Japanese book cover by Takashi Horiguchi for a collection of essays on American fiction, titled Novelists' America: How Dreams Turned into Nightmares, envisions the White Whale with a human head in its open mouth, a new and horrifying visual reading of either Jonah or Ishmael. Shepard Fairey's 2013 poster for new members of the Library Foundation of Los Angles' Young Literati Foundation, created for the occasion of the Foundation's new library program "Whatever happened to Moby Dick?," could be readily adapted into a cover for the novel, with the central image suspended between "Herman Melville" printed at the top and "Moby Dick" at the bottom.7 A conventionally drawn, white sperm whale swims horizontally above his name, anchoring the image. His spout, however, zooms upward in dramatic diagonals. Dominating the center of the poster and the whale's spout is an elaborate, lacy snowflake, at whose heart is a grim skull. Calling himself "a populist artist," Fairey claims that the motivation behind his works is "to question everything" (Fabian), an assertion confirmed by this ambiguous projection of Moby Dick's spout.
If the number of illustrated editions of Moby-Dick has waned since 1995, the visual responses to it as both a physical book and as a text have not. The length of Melville's novel and its popular reputation as ponderous and as concerned with depths and immensities—oceanic, cetacean, and human—have increasingly come to signify its weighty cultural and commercial value. However, aesthetic responses to the novel no longer take the form of profusely and beautifully illustrated books, such as the three-volume, aluminum and glassine slip-cased edition with illustrations by Rockwell Kent (1930) or the Arion Press' single volume edition with blue Moroccan goatskin, handmade paper, a whale watermark, a typeface named "Leviathan," and illustrations by Barry Moser (1979). Many contemporary artists who have been moved to re-create [End Page 18] versions of the textual Moby-Dick seem to applaud Stubb's imperative to his almanac: "'Book! you lie there; the fact is, you books must know your places. You'll do to give us the bare words and facts, but we come in to supply the thoughts'" (433). Recent artists respond by transforming the physical book itself, usually into a wordless image. The very frequency of artists' responses to the physical book may reinforce the commonplace that Moby-Dick is the novel "everyone knows, but no one has read," while some artists, through their intellectual and aesthetic responses, have emphatically embraced the challenge of grasping the ungraspable nature of Moby-Dick; or, the Book.
In the 1990s, Robert McCauley and Sharon Wysocki challenged readers of Moby-Dick by boxing up the novel and by slathering it with red-and-black paint. In 2005, Sharon L. Butler mounted an exhibition at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, titled Moby-Dick, Used, for which she gathered multiple editions of the novel and stacked them together, shelves and shelves of them, until they overflowed (Schultz, "Creating Icons," 350–51). Installation artist Daniel Bozhkov, having discovered hundreds of copies of a 1977 Moby-Dick coloring and activity book in the basement of the Queens Museum, incorporated them in 2010 into a museum project, titled "Republik of Perpetual Reconstitution and Rebuild." Along with a series of lockers, video projections, rotary phones, a jukebox playing Bach, and a full-sized, three-dimensional reproduction of Michelangelo's Pieta, these books joined other cultural manifestations from the past that were being recycled for the twenty-first century (Rosenberg).8
In 2005–06, Stefana McClure literally reconstructed Moby-Dick, cutting the text into strips that she pasted together and wound into a ball, thereby turning the novel into a sculptural globe, 21 inches in circumference (Fig. 2). Not merely interested in the deconstruction of the novel, she explains her desire to demonstrate Moby-Dick's non-linear nature, its global associations, as well as its "distillation of time and the obliteration and reconstruction of information" (McClure). In 2013, an artist, identifying him/herself only as a "book sculptor," cut into the center of an edition of Moby-Dick to create a sea of waves from its pages and then, from other pages in the book, folded and cut out images of the Pequod with Ahab standing in the bow pointing at the White Whale ("Wetcanvas").
Numerous contemporary artists grapple directly with the text of Moby-Dick. However, the wide range of their responses reveals it to be as challenging as the sperm whale's brow was to Ishmael: "I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can" (347). The entire novel, for example, has been printed out on two "Litographs" posters (27 9/16 x 39 3/8 in.) in twelve columns with the print falling away at the bottom to make way for a white whale's flukes. Danny Fein and a group in Cambridge, Mass., inaugurated "Litographs" (literature + graph). [End Page 19] Setting chapters 1 through 5 in minuscule type, they generate a pale version of the Spouter-Inn's "boggy, soggy, squitchy picture" (Moby-Dick 12) of a whale for a nearly illegible "litograph" on tee-shirts, totes, and posters. Exemplary of contemporary artists' endeavors to re-configure Moby-Dick as a book, and a wondrous object in itself, is Diane Samuels's 2015 transcription of the entire novel, written out by pen onto a tapestry of paper, 96 by 564 inches. Samuels's beautiful work scrolls down a wall and out onto the floor, resembling a single immense ocean wave of shifting, trembling blues, lavenders, and greens. Made of remnants of archival paper and Samuels's own drawings that have been re-cycled and re-painted, this astonishing hand-written tapestry resembles a vibrant new version of Moby-Dick's "Loom of Time" (214), weaving together words in myriad colors, giving vibrant new life to Melville's novel.
Entrepreneurial artists have attempted to grasp Moby-Dick visually by transforming either its text or its individual chapters. Fred Benenson, perceiving Moby-Dick to be a novel about "this huge, seemingly insurmountable challenge, told using metaphors and stylized language," believed that translating the novel into emoji would be a similar experience: "a weird, huge challenge . . . in metaphors and stylized language" (Law). In 2009, he launched a project to translate Moby-Dick's approximately 10,000 sentences into emoticons, devising [End Page 20] black-and-white soft cover and color hard-cover editions of Emoji Dick (Fig. 3). His project culminated triumphantly with its acceptance into the Library of Congress in 2013 (Allen).
Between 2009 and 2011, Andrew Seguin ironically responded to his pleasure in Melville's text by eliminating it, leaving only its punctuation, replacing the novel's words with images generated through the alternative photographic process of cyanotype. Seguin translated his feeling that "Melville's sentences, with their propellant rhythm and beguiling syntax, are like tow ropes pulling me through a strange and sparkling sea" (Seguin). The "strange and sparkling sea" in the deep blue backdrop of his cyanotypes is filled with the minute remains of Melville's text—its punctuation glittering like stardust or minute phosphorescent fish. Seguin's work contains haunting portraits of Ahab, Star-buck, Stubb, and the four harpooneers, while his images of whales, reflecting Barry Moser's illustrations for the Arion Press Moby-Dick, illuminate the tragedy of their slaughter and transformation into mechanical objects, as well as the majesty of their survival (Fig. 4). In 2016, Zazzle, an online company, promoting a series titled "Between the Words," offered for sale a poster in diverse sizes, titled "The Punctuation of Moby-Dick; or the Whale by Herman Melville." Displaying circles within circles of the novel's punctuation in its entirety, sentence by sentence, this poster depicts a whirling and illegible cosmic globe: a phantom of the novel's text.
To several artists, Moby-Dick has proven most approachable through a single chapter. In 2006, Sarah Vogel created three differently-sized volumes—Folio, Octavo, and Duodecimo—with sheets folding out from each of her volumes to reveal linocuts of the whale species discussed in Moby-Dick's chapter 32, "Cetology." Caroline Hack of England, whose fascination with Moby-Dick has resulted in her travel to distant seas to view whale species in their natural habitat, has created a diversity of whales as toys and jewelry, in prints and textile pieces, as well as her version of "Cetology." Significantly, she brought her passion for Melville's novel and her growing knowledge of whales and whaling into focus in 2017 by stitching together twelve books to illuminate Ishmael's classification of whales according to the book sizes in his "Cetology" chapter. [End Page 21] Three small books illuminate the small whales of the Duodecimo clan; three mid-sized volumes depict the mid-sized Octavo whales; while the immense Folio whales, including the sperm and right whales, are shown in six large rectangular volumes. Each of Hack's twelve books is covered in deep-blue mulberry paper, on the cover of which a whale of the designated classification swims, gleaming white as if highlighted by rays penetrating the sea. Inside her books, Hack further illuminates the diversity of cetacean species in drawings and in discussion, from scientific as well as personal perspectives.
Painter Christopher Volpe, prompted by Ishmael's response to the portentous "boggy, soggy, squitchy picture" (12) in the Spouter-Inn, dedicated 2017 to achieving a similar effect in his own work: "I was fascinated by [Melville's] description, and wanted to try to make this painting" (Volpe). He was led not only to contemplate the works of nineteenth-century artists who conjured similar effects—J. M. W. Turner and Albert Pinkham Ryder—but also to attempt to duplicate an unholy mixture of oil paint, tar, and gold leaf that might have been used to create an image such as Ishmael describes. Volpe collectively named the several paintings resulting from his experiment after Moby-Dick's first chapter, "Loomings," identifying them with the dark "American [End Page 22] chiaroscuro" that Clement Greenberg associated with Melville, Hawthorne, and Poe. In Volpe's largely abstract works, a deep, textured darkness seems to prevail as tar dominates over gold: a dark ship, its masts momentarily defined by light, tilts on a dark sea as it leans into a dark night; a whale's dark flukes rise up, dripping black paint, black blood, black oil. Volpe emphatically disclaims any intent to "illustrate the novel," but seeks rather to clear a pathway into an "'inscrutable' universe" (Volpe).
In 2005, Tony de los Reyes, astounded to discover how relevant chapter 1, "Loomings" was for himself as an artist consistently "working with the phenomenology of visual perception and the fluctuations between figuration and abstraction," reduced this chapter to its most significant words, spaced out on six pages, and retitled it "A Closer Reading" ("A Closer Reading" 16). Explaining that he relied "on the residue of Melville's labyrinthine language to reveal a psychic bond between the author and myself," he created "an archipelago of type" (17). Conceiving of this work as a hand-delivered letter, he leaves the last phrase—"the overwhelming idea" (Moby-Dick 7)—on the penultimate page surrounded by whiteness, while the final page, apart from its title, remains blank. In 2010, he created a larger and bolder image (60 3/4 x 44 1/2 in.) of the page from "Loomings" in which Ishmael is set down for a "Bloody Battle in Affghanistan" (7), splattering red blister as if it were blood across the page.
In 2008, he also experimented with chapter 42, "The Whiteness of the Whale," printing key passages in white letters on dark linen, using white bands to erase Melville's well-known passages on whiteness. In the same year, French artist Claire Illouz published her book The Whiteness, dedicated to "The Whiteness of the Whale." Opening out to 101 inches, the horizontality of this book "contributes to the idea of a journey at sea: with such dimensions, the paper remains flexible and the linked pages evoke the movement of waves" (Illouz 10). Illouz breathtakingly juxtaposes the chapter's words, embossed, white on skeletal white, with pages depicting a garden of radiant, colored flowers and plants, thwarting Melville's verbal construct of "a colorless, all color of atheism from which we shrink" (Moby-Dick 195). She also commissioned a textured white box to hold the book.
Since 1998, Justin Quinn has also become committed to reprinting chapters of Moby-Dick, or EEEE EEEE, as he re-titles the novel, replacing every letter in the novel with a hand-drawn letter "E." Printed in various media—intaglio, graphite, silverpoint, and collage—Quinn's strings of Es appear in different sizes and colors, lining up in dense blocks with small white paths creeping through, or spiraling, swirling, snaking across a page, depending on the content of Melville's original text. Critic Kenneth Baker comments that Quinn's drawings of Es may correlate with a chapter's image, perceiving, for [End Page 23] example, in reference to Quinn's The Chart, or 7,290 times E, a reflection of Ahab's "coiled, creased charts" (Fig. 5; Baker). Quinn believes that his work "speaks of language and the transfer of information, but now [has become] a conduit of Melville's sublime narratives" (Millman). On a single wall, Quinn's pages of vibrating lines of the letter E line up impressively, like a white whale inscribed with hieroglyphs.
In 2016, Beth Haber created a series of eighteen works, each named for a chapter in Moby-Dick, each creating the illusion of being opened to the text of that chapter, and each with the seam between the chapter's pages running down the middle. Haber began each of her works by scanning two facing pages from a particular chapter. She then enlarged these pages, sheathed them in mylar, and applied diverse pigments to create the illusion of depth and a shimmering, rippling surface over the printed text of Moby-Dick. On this surface, she painted diverse images, which add tactility to her oceanic illusion, causing the images to appear to float across her layers of words. Thus in Chowder clusters of clams cling together on her treated pages, and in The Whiteness of the Whale, bands of clams seem to dissolve into the print. In Heads or Tails (Fig. 6), two large, identical mussel shells oppose each other, while squares of vibrant color are settled onto her gleaming pages, interpreting "The Counterpane." In [End Page 24] her multi-layered and nuanced work, Haber superimposes illusion upon illusion. Her hope, she explains, is to provide access to "a world both intimately familiar but also completely alien" and to encourage viewers to plunge more deeply into Melville's text by recalling "the experience of entering an ocean of words through the swells of an open book" (Haber).
The British husband-and-wife artist team of Oona Grimes and Tony Grisoni joined their interests in Moby-Dick by creating startlingly diverse works for the 2011 London exhibition, "Call Me Ishmael." Grimes's work was spurred by her family's recent discovery of the watercolor storyboards for John Huston's 1956 film Moby Dick, which were drawn by her father Stephen Grimes, an assistant art director on the film. Grimes and Grisoni's new works were part of an installation set on the Pequod's deck, where the film director Roman Polanski is depicted introducing Poe to Pinocchio in an outlandish clash of cultures, media, and voices. Titling their combined work Postcards from the [End Page 25] Pequod, they employed a bizarre range of materials to ignite an interest among millennials for Melville's novel. Grimes's recent work, a series of seven 11 x 13 inch elegant and spare etchings, letraset, spray-painted, and patterned with "funky foam," differs from her father's evocative, realistic watercolors. While relating by title to specific chapters in Melville's novel, each suggests intersecting hieroglyphs from Queequeg's coffin. With darting lines cut off at the pictures' edges like harpoon lines flung into space, black squares and spirals are crossed by dashes, lines, Xs, and shadowy allusions to cetacean and human shapes. The images are flat, delicate, and elusive, seeming to be brief messages from the heart of the novel, written in code.
Grisoni's four-minute video, which visualizes chapter 94, "A Squeeze of the Hand," begins with soft, viscous blobs bobbing aimlessly in a thick chartreuse liquid, the seeming antithesis of Grimes's tidy, cryptic works. Here ghostly fingers gradually reach down from the top of the screen, wavering, wriggling, attempting to grasp the floating blobs. As the color shifts into yellow and lavender, two shadowy hands emerge, reaching out desperately, but unable finally to grasp these manifestations of "the ungraspable phantom of life" (Moby-Dick 5). Diverse quotations from "A Squeeze of the Hand" appear superimposed on the screen, reminding us finally, as the hands float off the screen, that even in a murky, uncertain world, it may be possible to live "as if in a musky meadow" and feel "divinely free" (416).
Other artists reconstruct Moby-Dick as a book but focus primarily on images in response to the text. In conjunction with a 2009 exhibition of thirty contemporary artists' responses to Moby-Dick at the Wattis Institute in Los Angeles, an exquisite catalogue was published, honoring and referencing Rockwell Kent's single-volume, illustrated Random House edition (published in 1930, the same year as his deluxe three-volume Lakeside Press edition). A small, compact book of 136 pages, as opposed to the conventionally hefty museum catalogue, it is cloth-bound and densely packed with information about Melville's novel and the exhibition. The Wattis Institute's catalogue is also white—very like Melville's whale, with the name "MOBY DICK" appearing on the cover in the same print Kent used for his Random House cover. Throughout the catalogue's text are numerous Kent Moby-Dick images, all printed in azure blue; miniature harpoons flank each page number, another characteristic of Kent's Moby-Dick; and the sea, ever moving, is drawn on the catalogue's end papers.
Perhaps following the standard set by Frank Stella between 1986 and 1997, several artists have responded to the novel's complexity by illuminating it chapter-by-chapter. Beginning in 2010, Timothy Woodman created a painted panel for each of Moby-Dick's 135 chapters.9 Notably, the website for the 2011 [End Page 26] "Moby Dick Big Read," sponsored by England's Plymouth University, features one artist's work for each of the novel's chapters. In 2013, Trish Harris and Lisa Holloway-Attaway completed a years-long project of bringing together ninety poets, essayists, artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, and videographers, each of whom contributed a work for every chapter of Moby-Dick in their collective creation, Remaking Moby-Dick 1.0. In its multiplicity of written, visual, performative, and musical arts, contributed by several nationalities, first-time readers of the novel, as well as longtime Melville scholars, this heterogeneous book simulates the White Whale's complexity. The seemingly awkward presence of bar codes not only brings the possibility of sound and motion into a static verbal and visual text but expands the novel into word clouds and the future. On the book's front cover, environmental artist Rick Pearson paints a realistic Moby Dick, rising in a vivacious tumult of waves, clouds, and birds. On the back cover, his painting is pixilated, suggesting the expansive and collapsing boundaries of time, space, creation, and production.
The most exuberant and comprehensive of all visual re-creations of Moby-Dick as book is Matt Kish's 2011 Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page, which translates into one drawing for each of the 552 pages of the 1998 Signet edition of Moby-Dick. A quotation from each page of this edition accompanies each of his pictures. Given Kish's monumental achievement in creating Moby-Dick in Pictures, his work is discussed in the final section of this essay, in conjunction with three other major contemporary Moby-Dick artists.
In Plastic; in Paper; in Concrete; in Metal; in Meadows
For the Tenth International Melville Society Conference in 2015, Yuko Ito created a logo of the White Whale rising up joyously in spray and spume, out of a turquoise sea, to intersect in organic Technicolor with Japan's own iconic monster, Godzilla (Pl. 1; the color plates are printed in a separate section that follows this essay). Ubiquitous at the conference, this figure appeared in plastic, on paper, on badges, on bags, on programs. In the past twenty years, while numerous artists responded to the cultural and physical weight of Moby-Dick as a book, others were inspired to create free-standing, independent works related to the novel, following the tendency of artists prior to 1995, as I documented in Unpainted to the Last. Collectively, these contemporary aesthetic representations of Moby Dick (the whale) and Moby-Dick (the novel) are idiosyncratic. Like previous Moby-Dick works, they may be realistic or abstract, reflecting the tension in the novel between historical narrative and distinct dramatis personae, on the one hand, and Melville's non-narrative metaphysical and philosophical musings, on the other. Recent works by Moby-Dick [End Page 27] artists, whether in realistic or abstract modes, reveal their ongoing endeavor to grasp the ungraspable by experiment, by testing new materials, and by using aesthetic processes untried earlier.
Unlike previous artists, Riko Yamamoto, Qiao Xiaoguang, and Peter Michael Martin have created large paper-cuts to project the exuberance of Moby-Dick's language and narrative. Yamamoto's white whales, cut from white paper, breached playfully and gloriously in the windows of Starbuck's on Tokyo's Ginza in 2007. In his 2009 works, Qiao's large paper-cuts of Moby Dick associate the whale with vibrant, regenerative possibilities. In The Story of Moby Dick, for example, the interior of his horizontal paper-cut whale literally blossoms with floral designs (Fig. 7). Cavorting among these paper-cut flowers is a monkey—perhaps an allusion to the "monkey-rope" linking Queequeg and Ishmael, but perhaps also a reference to China's beloved folk hero, "Sun Wukong, the Monkey King." Naked men hold hands as they dance along Moby Dick's back and belly, vivaciously re-enacting Moby Dick's story in Qiao's large cut-out, despite the fact that some of them along the whale's belly nearly fall out of the picture.
Martin's 2012–13 paper-cut works, done with black tyvek paper laid on white tyvek, emphasize moments in the novel of companionship, comfort, wonder. His first Moby-Dick work, "There was a Time . . ." (91 x 47 in.) evokes a prelapsarian, pre-whaling period when whales joyfully thronged the seas. Several pieces based on the novel's early chapters suggest the astonishing sight [End Page 28] of cannibals in black-face conversing on New Bedford street corners and the comfort of a smiling, robust Mrs. Hussey and her chowder. Ahab's Dream (4 x 6 ft.) of destroying Moby Dick, in Martin's vision, becomes exuberant as Ahab is shown kicking back his bone leg, raising a jubilant hand over his head, and riding the skeleton of the white whale through the air (Fig. 8). Here we can ride our obsessions with glee. Even Martin's most melancholy piece, Melville the Man (36 1/4 x 68 1/2 in.), subverts the elegiac conclusion of Moby-Dick. As depicted here, Melville, walking away from the New Bedford harbor, does not see Moby Dick behind him kicking up his flukes forever in the moonlight.
Uruguayan sculptor Marco Maggi also used paper in creating his abstract response to Moby-Dick. In 2000, he stacked reams of 8 1/2 x 11 inch white paper in a seven-by-seven-foot grid to construct his Great White Dialogue on [End Page 29] the floor of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. On the top layer, he made precise cuts patterning the overall surface of the paper, implicitly suggesting the difficulty of translating the hieroglyphs on the whale's skin and of understanding chapter 42 on "The Whiteness of the Whale."
Since 2000, Moby-Dick has inspired several sculptors to experiment with new materials and new aesthetic techniques. Focusing on the magnitude of both whale and novel, rather than on the novel's characters, these experimental sculptures raise a diversity of questions regarding Melville's novel. Michael Melle created in 2012 on the grounds of Arrowhead, Melville's homestead in Pittsfield, Mass., a nearly life-size sculpture of Ahab in his boat, harpoon in hand, approaching the White Whale as it emerges from the back meadow. Placed emphatically inland and made of local natural materials, including a silver birch tree and saplings, agricultural row cloth, and excelsior, this clumsy, oddly domestic sculpture mimics the novel's most frequently visualized scene. Well-known sculptor of public art, Tom Otterness first placed his large (61 x 105 x 4l in.) bronze sculpture, titled Moby-Dick, in Manhattan at Broadway's intersection with 71st Street. As part of his series of twenty-five sculptures of iconic figures, each of which appeared at a different spot along five miles of Broadway from September 2004 through March 2005, Otterness responds to Ahab's first and last encounters with Moby Dick. The sculpture, now housed in the St. Louis City Museum, focuses on both the cause and effect of Ahab's mania and suffering, simultaneously revealing the whale biting off his leg and his subsequent suffering as he lies with only one leg, strapped to the whale with harpoon lines. As is the case with most of Otterness's sculptures, Moby Dick and Ahab seem to be gigantic comic or cosmic toys, but with this sculpture Otterness also encapsulates the profound relationship between pain and rage.
Tim Hawkinson's immense sculptures use a diversity of materials to reference the physical, sensual, and spatial immensity of both the whale and the Pequod. His 2005 Uberorgan necessitated his putting together a 300-foot network of twelve gigantic, air-filled, polyethylene bladders, many of them suspended from the high ceilings of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. To stand inside the Uberorgan was to have a Jonah experience, as Hawkinson's monstrous contraption belched and farted through a series of valves, opening and closing. Jeffrey Insko quotes the artist as relating his work not only to a ship's "netting and lashing and rigging and foghorn-like sounds" but also to "a whale's massive rib cage and organs." Insko asserts that in the Uberorgan Hawkinson combines all "wonder and spectacle, ambition and scope, with pleasure and self-mocking" (Insko). Hawkinson, however, did not stop here; in 2006, he went on to create the Möbius Ship (104 x 122 x 51 in.), constructed of multiple household materials, including plastic bags, string, twist ties, glue, [End Page 30] Plexiglas, and wood. Suspended and fashioned as a massive, three-dimensional Möbius strip, "deck and stern morph into each other as masts radiate outward" (Dent). This ship appears to be perpetually pursuing itself even as Ahab obsessively pursued his vision of the whale, "chased and being chased to his deadly end" (Moby-Dick 383).
Recently, three life-size sculptures of Moby Dick swam across the US and into the international art scene: the first (2009) created by American artist Tristan Lowe at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia (Fig. 9); the second (2011) by Ava Blitz in a park in Shafer, Minnesota; and the third (2013) by French artist Loris Gréaud at the 54th Venice International Biennale. Bridging science and art, all three of these immense white cetacean still-lifes dwarfed viewers. One created from resin, one from industrial wool felt, and another from concrete, all three explicitly reference Melville's White Whale. Lowe's fifty-two-foot whale, Mocha Dick, which can be deflated, inflated, and zippered up to be displayed again, imitates life as it floats in its non-oceanic museum space. All of its carefully stitched, realistic callosities, scars, and circular squid tentacle marks were readily visible to viewers in several American galleries, who were encouraged to touch a nearby piece of fabric to get a feel [End Page 31] for cetacean skin. The second of these life-size White Whales swims in a prairie park in Minnesota that reminded its artist, Ava Blitz, of the ocean's vastness (Blitz). This immense white sculpture (53 x 277 x 39 in.) seems to be cruising just above the surface of a deep green sea. Made in 2004 of bags of concrete and exposed to the elements, the sculpture has hardened over time to generate a pock-marked, organic surface and, like a living being, has "gone through cycles of fragmentation, growth, and renewal" (Blitz). Gréaud's fifty-five-foot whale, part of The Geppetto Pavilion, was emphatically dead, laid out on a sandy surface, its mouth agape. Surrounded by a fence, protected by a uniformed security guard, and plugged into numerous wires, Gréaud's whale contained a porthole through which visitors might see enshrined within a realistic baby, possibly an emblematic Jonah or Pinocchio.10 All three of these immense sculptures challenge their viewers, as Moby Dick challenges Melville's readers, to muse upon the shifting, indeterminate boundaries between art, myth, and what we call reality.
Since 1995, contemporary painters and printmakers inspired by Moby-Dick, with few exceptions, have tended to represent Melville's novel in a realistic, narrative mode. The diversity of inspiration for these artists' visions of Moby-Dick has generated a stunning range of aesthetic interpretations, however. Thomas A. D. Watson's large oil painting, titled The Chase—First Day and Douglas Zider's several depictions of docks and ships relating to Moby-Dick emphasize weather and the sea, taking their inspiration from the New England coast. George Klauba's inspiration for his psychologically astute portraits of Moby-Dick's characters and his evocative images of whales came from global traditions of tattooing as well as from birds and sea creatures, some mythological. Matt Kish's inspiration, to be discussed below, was comic books. Italian Franco Fortunato's use of a single-dimension, luminous blue background for his Moby-Dick paintings reflects his knowledge of early Italian masters. Kathleen Piercefield's emotionally charged collages were influenced by her attentiveness to the woodlands and fields of Kentucky and her study of Moby-Dick with Robert K. Wallace at Northern Kentucky University.
Some post-1995 artists, such as Jody Foster, Dan R. Kirchhefer, Sprague, and Watson, have each created a single impressive Moby-Dick work in a different medium, each with a different focus,11 whereas several post-1995 artists, including Zider, Kish, Klauba, Piercefield, Catherine Kanner, and Mexican artist José Antonio Farrera have created, among diverse Moby-Dick works, evocative portrait galleries of the novel's multi-cultural and diverse crew members. [End Page 32] In so doing, they have followed the frequent response to the novel by comic book and children's book illustrators as well as by earlier Moby-Dick illustrators and artists such as Gilbert Wilson, Leonard Baskin, and Claus Hoie. Kanner's exquisitely drawn portraits unfold accordion-style in a small book of engravings (1997); Klauba's appear in a stunning series of stand-alone oil paintings of bird/man images, with an appropriate bird exposing the inner, avian nature of each of Melville's characters (2003–04);12 and Kish, after completing his immense task of illustrating 552 pages of Moby-Dick, created twelve brightly colored, equally sized portraits of The Crew of the Pequod (2016). Most contemporary artists, however, including Foster, Piercefield, Fortunato, Klauba, De los Reyes, and Qiao, have stepped away from the novel's full dramatis personae to emphasize the importance of only one or two individuals in the novel: usually Ahab, Queequeg, or Pip.
Fortunato represents Ahab as a mystic (Schultz, "Fortunato"), whereas in a stark, abstract sculpture De los Reyes represents him as a hardened, death-like figure. Klauba and Piercefield, however, both show a tender side to Ahab in their works, illuminating his suffering and possible redemption. Piercefield in a collagraph/monotype (22 x 29 in.) reveals an Ahab divided between death and life, with a benign, life-giving spirit tenderly addressing Pip, telling him, "Thou must not follow" (Moby-Dick 534; Pl. 2). Of Klauba's four portraits of Ahab, the first three—Ahab (2003), From Hell's Heart I Stab at Thee (2004), Death to the Living; Long Life to the Killers (2006)—show him to be implacably determined to destroy Moby Dick. However, his fourth and last work on Ahab, Ahab Dismasted (2007), reveals a weary man ignoring his good angel, hovering above him, as he fastens on his ivory leg to pursue Moby Dick (Fig.10) once more. Imagining Ahab engaged in this personal process, Klauba depicts him naked, the agony from his leg visible, his weakness apparent as he leans on his harpoon.
Since 1995, Queequeg consistently has been given heroic stature by contemporary artists, while Pip, victimized by racism on the Pequod, evokes pity and tenderness. Klauba's 2008 portrait, Queequeg with Japanese Tattoos Transformed (18 x 24 in.), shows the Polynesian harpooneer, hawk-faced, standing before Yojo in the ship's hull (Pl. 3). His tattoos reveal the destiny that he himself cannot read: his final, fated meeting with Moby Dick. Foster's and Piercefield's life-size and full-length frontal portraits (37 x 107 in., 2001; 40 x 92 in., 2004), both idealized, are a study in contrast. Foster, on the one hand, in a black-and-white woodblock on mulberry paper, presents a benign, androgynous figure whose tattoos connect him to Buddhistic and shamanistic traditions of harmony and gentleness (Schultz, "Common Continent," 27–29). Piercefield, on the other hand, using collagraph, monotype, [End Page 33]
[End Page 34] polyester plate, lithography, etching, and hand-coloring on canvas, presents a capacious, muscular figure who, among his numerous tattoos, wears Melville's portrait on his heart.
A more recent idealization of Queequeg is De los Reyes's 2009 portrait of the Polynesian as George Washington Cannibalized, in which Gilbert Stuart's famous image of Washington is converted by a Maori haircut and carefully delineated tattooing into a South Sea islander, "a noble savage," truly. As Ishmael observes, "A man can be honest in any sort of skin" (21), and later, "Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul" (49). Also in 2009, Qiao cut a powerful image of Queequeg from black paper, evoking through intersecting lines the squares that Ishmael initially perceives on his friend's face as well as his "deep eyes, fiery black and bold" (50), which appear to look inward and outward simultaneously.
Both Klauba and Piercefield have created triptychs to tell Pip's story. Piercefield not only shows the young boy with Ahab looming over him, as Pip describes it, like a "big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness" (Moby-Dick 178; Pl. 3), but in three other images of Pip—Pip: Alone, Pip: Surrender (Pl. 4), Pip: Transcendence—she shows the young cabin boy, abandoned by Stubb's crew and left alone at sea, moving from the trauma of feeling his body and soul dividing, to feeling his body entrapped by the sea, to believing that he saw "the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. . . . He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom" (414). Klauba's 2008 triptych extends his astonishing 2003 portrait of Pip, The Castaway, the first portrait I know of that evoked the cabin boy's psychological and possibly religious experience as a result of his becoming a castaway. As a blackbird, the boy flounders on the surface of the sea, while below him a mystical hand appears ready to bolster him; the hand seems also to protect him from a bevy of the sea's "most dreaded creatures glid[ing] under water, unapparent for the most part, treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure . . . devilishly brilliant . . . [and] daintly embellished" (Moby-Dick 247). In the triptych, called Pip's Dream Trilogy, Klauba places the boy in a hammock inside the ship's hull that merges with the sea. In Immersion, the first work in the series, he is evidently struggling to sleep as beneath him diverse bizarre and terrifying sea creatures rise up; in Surrender, these creatures almost touch his hand, which dangles from the hammock; and in Rebirth, the last work in Klauba's trilogy, the boy rises above his hammock, while the sea creatures, accepting him, swim by placidly (Pl. 5). Through these empathetic [End Page 35] visualizations of Pip's experiences, Klauba seems to imply that the traumatized boy transcends a life of terror.
Personal and Psychological
Recently, Moby-Dick has proven to be a catalyst for artists whose work reflects the personal and the psychological. Avoiding realistic portrayals of the novel's characters and its dramatic events, five painters—Christopher Martin Hoff, Timothy Vermeulen, Kimble A. Bromley, T. L. Solien, and Eleen Lin—explicitly fuse Moby-Dick with their personal circumstances, often revealing a feminist orientation.
By seeing the novel in contemporary cityscapes, Hoff reveals its presence in his everyday life in Seattle in 2010. Emptying his paintings of people, he explains that he seeks to "uncover meaning in the world around him" (Hoff). Working in plein air, Hoff painted on linen canvases, creating works named for chapters of Moby-Dick: "Ahab," "The Pulpit," "The Battering Ram," "The Lee Shore," "The Blanket," "The Try-Works," "The Symphony," "The Chase: In His Wake." For Hoff, after he read Melville's novel, "the ruined skeletons of structures caught in limbo by the financial crisis became characters from the book, graffiti and street signs became 'Belshazzar's writing on the wall,' telephone poles became mastheads and wires, whale lines" (Veltkamp). Hoff's "Ahab" depicts a building in the process of demolition with a jagged white scar running through crumbling rocks and plaster. In "The Pulpit," the primary focus is a billboard raised against a cerulean blue sky with a ladder leading up to it and an abandoned telephone booth below. And in "The Battering Ram," a building where two alleys come together has been changed into the head of a whale who charges directly toward us out of the painting.
Vermeulen's fourteen, small (17 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.), detailed, narrative paintings of Moby-Dick, also done in 2010, reflect a devotion to medieval manuscripts. Representing himself in his works as a searching, isolated soul, Vermeulen fuses Melville's novel with his personal world as well as with a contemporary world of industrialization and pollution. A Calvin College art professor, he explicitly comments that his "work is part of a process of wrestling for self-discovery through autobiographical narratives, in many cases involving self-portraiture" (Vermeulen). Although his emphatically personal work evokes Ishmael's angst, Vermeulen also captures his wit. We see Vermeulen dumbfounded by an immense black canvas in Spouter Inn and by a white canvas in The Whiteness, where he stands in the midst of snow. He appears in "The Castaway," a lone figure abandoned in a rainbow-stripped wading pool in the middle of an enormous, empty parking lot, and again in I only am escaped, [End Page 36] where paddling Queequeg's coffin he floats through a flooded city, presided over by a billboard that proclaims "Ahab's Folly Casino," as a dog barks at him from atop a floating doghouse (Pl. 6).
Bromley, who testifies on his website that his personal narrative is a springboard for his visual interpretations of Moby-Dick, identifies himself explicitly with Ishmael, Moby Dick, and Pip. A North Dakota University painting teacher, he requires his advanced art students to read Moby-Dick. His 2010 paintings, Self-Portrait as Moby Dick (42 x 54 in.; Fig. 11) and The Whiteness of the Whale (46 x 52 in.), present scarred and graffitied white surfaces, expressing, he explains, personal feelings not only of persecution, but also of anger (Bromley, Interview). In Weapons of Mass Destruction (42 x 50 in., 2011), Bromley's personal anguish is absorbed in his outrage at the slaughter of whales in Moby-Dick and at the slaughter caused by war, signified in these paintings by tightening noose and barbed harpoons.
Solien has commented that he sees "Moby Dick's whiteness as a counterpoint to Ahab's darkness, and Ahab is chasing after his own redemption. Ultimately the white whale is me, and I want to find out what that is. And I'm haunted by it. I think it's impossible to ever come to grips with this idea of finding the whale, or defining and completely understanding oneself" (Doss 54). Solien's paintings of Ishmael, Queequeg, Pip, and Ahab all seem to reflect aspects of the artist seeking himself. Our Things (2005–06), based on chapter 13, "The Wheelbarrow," suggests the jumbled chaos not only of Ishmael and Queequeg's circumstances but also of Solien's own life. In The Leaking Room (2006), he appears in a room where his own paintings hang on the wall and a melting snowman presses against him. This Ahab is literally, as he describes himself, "'all aleak'" (Moby-Dick 474; Fig. 12). Solien's portrait of Ahab, generically titled He (2006), with Xs for his eyes and a jaunty toupee, seems slap-happy, punch-drunk from his endless pursuit of the White Whale or of self-understanding. Solien's somber picture of Pip, who is adrift on a pea-green sea beneath a sickly yellow sky, far from the small ship on the horizon, embodies the world's castaways, not only its refugees but also its artists who, Solien believes, inevitably risk tragic isolation (Schultz, "Solien" 42).
In her Moby-Dick paintings, Eleen Lin assimilates her interest in Melville and her present life in the United States with her Asian background and her knowledge of Asian mythology and folklore. Lin sees herself as representing a "third culture kid who calls nowhere 'home,' but is connected with multiple distinctive cultures." Her contemporary paintings thus reflect our present age, which she identifies as one "of cultural cannibalism where everything is brought together and rearranged to formulate new identities" ("Drifting"). With over thirty works—seven-foot long oil-and-acrylics and small [End Page 37]
ink-on-paper pieces—all with titles directly related to Melville's novel, Lin uses Moby-Dick, which she initially read as a high-school student in Taipei, to evoke Western culture. In her large, flamboyantly colored works, collectively gathered under the heading of Mythopoeia with names based on well-known chapters in Moby-Dick, including "The Sermon," "The first lowering," "The [End Page 38] mat-maker (Loom of time)," "The Spirit-Spout," "The gam," and "Town-ho Story," Lin re-envisions Melville's narrative in jewel-like colors, geometric shapes, and flowing organic forms.
Lin's compressions of cultures and patterns is readily apparent in "The first lowering," in which a small dark-skinned man drops one of four folded paper boats into the sea from a ship with sails made of richly patterned and colored Asian paper, while in "The Spirit-Spout," a wooden raft with a single sail of Asian paper tilts toward the viewer as it heads for what appears to be a spouting and sinking white meteorite (Pl. 7). An astrological chart lies abandoned on the raft while a caduceus with a voluptuous woman and a tangled fishing rod seem to point in no direction. Many of Lin's paintings reflect a quiet humor, as does "The mat-maker," in which an androgynous person seems engaged in knitting him/herself into a stocking, and "Cabin-table," which presents a still-life arrangement of assorted nautical items from diverse cultures and epochs, such as a toy kaleidoscope, a blue glass whale, a plate with a half-eaten squid, [End Page 39] a contemporary coffee cup, a quill and ink bottle, and a nineteenth-century advertisement for a whaling crew. The White Whale in Lin's work is neither murderous nor ferocious; it floats into her paintings often translucent, always mysterious. Lin associates the whale with water, which is "usually the first thing I put on the canvas" (Interview with Emily Jaeger). Water dominates all of her Moby-Dick work. Contrasting with the geometric and linear designs in her painting, water is fluid, vibrant, leaping up into the foreground, swooping, swirling, churning, pooling quietly, mottled emerald and jade. It is an element Lin disassociates from cultural constructs, allowing it to flow freely with abstract abandon through her paintings.
Political and Environmental Perspectives
Other contemporary artists channel explicitly political and environmental issues through Moby-Dick. Barnaby Furnas's large and unsettling paintings done in 2012 focus on cetacean massacre and dismemberment and connect our ongoing dependency on fossil fuel with the nineteenth-century's use of whale oil (Furnas). Furnas's The Gutter #2" (40 1/2 x 28 in.) transforms the whale's tail into an oil well that geysers red blood, splattering a pale blue sky. A top-hatted, Ahab-like figure reaches up, bloodying his hands in the red rain. While the spurting of so much blood connotes the destruction of cetacean life, Furnas' cubistic, futuristic style conveys the mechanistic process by which this occurs. In his large painting The Whalers (195 x 144 in.), the violence is intensified as the body of the whale, again spewing red from its spout, is pierced Christ-like on all sides by multiple spears while nameless, numberless murderers ride in to accomplish their bloody task.13
In an interview for the collection of essays printed for his 2010 exhibition "Chasing Moby Dick," De los Reyes comments that "Melville's concerns feel very close to me as an American in the twenty-first century." He sees Moby-Dick as "a form of American prophecy" ("Conversation" 39, 43). Given the prevalent use of red blister in his works, many of De los Reyes' pieces appear sprayed with blood, referring not only to the desecration done to whales on whaling ships but also to the racial and military violence in American society. Through a screen of dripping red, in a painting titled Cannibal, we view an intricately designed Maori mask, suggesting the bloody history which existed between people of color and white Europeans and implicitly asking, as did Ishmael, "Who ain't a cannibal?" (300; Pl. 8). His large painting of the Pequod (91 3/4 x 75 1/2 in.) reveals glimpses of a nineteenth-century whale ship behind bars of alternating black ink and red blister, engaged in its bloody "butchering sort of business" (Moby-Dick 108) on a black and red sea. Riffing [End Page 40] on Jasper Johns' images of the American flag in one painting, De los Reyes places an 1851 flag with black stripes and thirty-one stars, backwards over a raging sea in another work (Fig. 13). Titled 1851, for the year of Moby-Dick's publication, this painting seems explicitly to project a Melvillean warning against American racism and expansionism.
Klauba expressed his ecological attentiveness in several regards. His representation of all of Melville's dramatis personae with the heads of birds testifies to their personalities but, perhaps more significantly, he thereby implies and reveals the interrelationship among species. His representations of whales best convey his role as an environmental artist. As does Melville in his multi-layered chapter 87, "The Grand Armada," so does Klauba in The Pod (2004) simultaneously reveal the interplay between horrendous upheaval and peace, death and new life. In The Pod, the sea's surface is bloody with the slaughter of whales by the men of the Pequod, while beneath the surface appears the whales' nursery and bridal chamber that Melville memorably describes in this chapter. In addition, Klauba's several representations of the White Whale depict him as mysterious and mystical. A fantastical creature, yet biologically accurate in Klauba's conception, he rises up from the depths, mouth agape; he is outlined in stars above the ship, fused with clouds; he breaches, his spout transformed into a dragon. In his signature painting, titled Moby Dick (2006), perhaps Klauba's most mystical work, the whale swims in a tumultuous sea, [End Page 41] while overhead the moon is shown passing through its phases (Fig. 14). His body here shown to be composed of multitudes of bizarre, perhaps extinct sea monsters, Klauba's Moby Dick seems capable of swimming through all time. However, even this most mystical of beings, this "ungraspable phantom of life," is wrapped round with ropes, everywhere stabbed, and drags men's chains and implements.
In the twentieth century, women Moby-Dick artists, such as Celia Smith and Vali Meyers (Schultz, Unpainted 281–87; Wallace, "Moby-Dick and the Arts" 694–95) led the way in our recognition of Melville's prescient environmental concern "that the hunted whale cannot now escape speedy extinction" (Moby-Dick 460). Theresa Zellig's large (44 x 76 1/2 in.) 1998 drawing "Will He Perish?" (Fig. 15) continued this ecofeminist trajectory in Moby-Dick art, dramatically projecting a concern for the survival Moby Dick and implicitly all other whales. Here, Moby Dick's enormous, life-like eye, located toward the bottom of an immense white brow, stares back at us. Gradually the viewer's attention is drawn upward, over the White Whale's vast and smooth brow, which in Melville's metaphor resembles a prairie, to the top of the drawing where Zellig depicts a troop of minute figures riding as if hunting buffalo across the prairie. Zellig's powerful work brings into visual reality Melville's astute [End Page 42]
[End Page 43] comparison of whales to buffalo and his speculation in Moby-Dick's chapter 105, "Will He Perish?" that the whale, like the prairies' "humped herds of buffalo," might not "endure so wide a chase, and so remorseless a havoc" and will, thus, like the buffalo, "at last be exterminated" (460).
Three English women artists—Steph Goodger, Flora Parrott, and Caroline Hack—have expressed their concern for the survival of sperm whales by depicting their bones. These aesthetic bones not only participate in Melville's cetological enterprise of conveying the whale's skeleton in chapters 102 and 103, but like religious talismans they also evoke Moby Dick's indomitable, enduring spirit. Goodger's thirteen-foot, multi-paneled painting depicts the sperm whale's first measurable skeleton, found on a Yorkshire Beach in 1825 and familiar to Melville as described in Thomas Beale's The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839). Despite its size and weight, Goodger's painting appeared to float in the 2011 London exhibition, "Call Me Ishmael," where Parrott's sculpture of a sperm whale's shoulder was also displayed. Hack, who has traveled extensively to see both living whales and their skeletons, has frequently quilted images of whale bones, on occasion using fabric imprinted with world maps, suggesting the omnipresence of whales in the world's oceans as well as of their global circumnavigations. With their images of cetacean bones, these artists raise the specter not only of a shared and inevitable mortality but also of the encroaching danger of extinction for vast numbers of cetaceans.
Another contemporary English artist, Vanessa Hodgkinson, trained in Islamic art, uses multiple patterns to project her concerns for whales in a series of eight watercolor-and-ink images. Her work raises disturbing questions about the survival of whales as well as about women's place in the whaling world. In Catch of the Morgan (2014), whales fill the sails of a whaleship, suggesting, as Robert K. Wallace has noted, that these whales are both "Loose-Fish and Fast-Fish" (Moby-Dick 398), causing viewers to wonder whether the whales have captured the ship or the ship has captured the whales ("Opening the Art of Seeing Whales"). Using the designs that whale men stamped into their logs to designate numbers of whales captured, Hodgkinson also lines up whales, row-on-row, beneath the sea's surface in Those Who Got Away to create a pattern in her works that seems simultaneously lifeless and yet evocative of multitudinous life. The tension and ambivalence in these works suggest both anxiety and hope for cetacean life. In two photographs of herself, posed with bound breasts before stiff, dead whales, she is less ambivalent. By intentionally masculinizing herself in order to disguise her gender, she not only embodies the extreme actions forced upon nineteenth-century women who went to sea, but she also explores the ways in which male power controlled the lives of both women and whales. [End Page 44]
Feminist and Gender Perspectives
Several contemporary artists—both men and women—reveal how women's lives may be integrated into Moby-Dick. Beginning with the first major artwork created by a woman in 1955—Anne Wilson's quilt, Moby-Dick (Schultz, Unpainted 276–78), women Moby-Dick artists have relied upon fabric and needle craft, traditionally associated with women's artistry, to embody their responses to a novel that for decades has been interpreted as relating explicitly to masculine concerns. Thus, while Aimée Picard in 2000 wove minute objects relevant to the novel into a fabric to create The Loom of Time (Schultz, "Beyond Melville and Women" 13), Jane Freeman in 2008 created two framed three-dimensional miniatures: one of the exterior of the Spouter-Inn, the other of Ishmael and Queequeg's cozy room at the Inn, titled The Patchwork Quilt and featuring a tiny patchwork quilt lying on the bed (Fig.16). Inspired by fellow Nantucketer, Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011) and using the seventeenth-century technique of raised embroidery, Susan Boardman stitched a narrative of eighteen small, intricately embroidered panels, using pictures and words in response to Melville's novel. Collectively titled The Mighty Misty Monster, her elaborate works focus on Moby Dick, both ferocious and destructive, beautiful and wondrous (Pl. 9), spraying a rainbow and swimming in harmony with a diversity of other gorgeous sea creatures.
In mid-2016, the Marta Hewett Gallery in Cincinnati displayed the works of nine women artists in a unique and stunning exhibition, "Adrift in the Wonder World: Women Make Meaning of Moby-Dick" (Coleman, "Whales in Cincinnati"; Wallace, "Beth Schultz"). Although the nine women participating in this exhibition depended upon a variety of media for their works, it is noteworthy that four of the nine—Mary Belperio, Abby Langdon, Caitlin Sparks, and Claire Illouz—used fabric and stitching to express themselves. Belperio created a tattooed wooden arm which she tenderly laid over a patchwork quilt, titling her work, Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane (33 x 60 x 7 in.; Thompson and Wallace 112–13) and evoking Queequeg and Ishmael's shared "confidential comfortableness" (Moby-Dick 54). Langdon's two large fabric pieces—The Whiteness (33 x 90 x 14 in.) and The Warrior (30 x 39 in.), one a reconstruction of the White Whale from a tent and the other a dramatic photo transfer onto fabric of herself as Queequeg—are covered with intricate embroidery, revealing Ishmael's sense of the hieroglyphic skin of both whales and men. Sparks crocheted her white whale, titled The Transparent Skin (75 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.), using a plastic yarn ("plarn") and incorporating found fabric and assorted trash into a powerful environmental statement concerning the fragility of the planet's oceans and its living beings. Made of fabric, thread, and yarn, Illouz's, [End Page 45] Langdon's, and Sparks's White Whales took on life-like qualities. Langdon's whale was suspended from the ceiling and appeared to swim through the gallery, while Sparks's whale seemed pliable enough to curve around a corner. In Illouz's Dear Leviathan (95 x 60 in.; Pl. 10), a large, three-panel drawing on silk, the whale glows, its outline no longer definable as it was in her earlier work The Whiteness (discussed above). In the Cincinnati exhibition, Illouz's Moby Dick, painstakingly painted on silk, seemed to float—all breath—off the wall, finally evaporating into the surrounding turquoise sea.
In addition to Langdon, Sparks, and Illouz, three other artists in "Adrift in the Wonder World" illuminated Moby Dick, Melville's "ungraspable phantom of life," rather than the characters in the novel. Their diverse sightings of [End Page 46] the White Whale appeared not only on fabric, paper, silk, and canvas and in plarn, but also in porcelain and video and ranged in size from 3 1/2 inches to 96 inches. Danielle Wallace's The Ungraspable Phantom, like Illouz's Dear Leviathan, emphasized the White Whale's shimmering mystery. Wallace depicted the Pequod approaching not the conventional image of the White Whale rising up before the ship, massive and well-defined, but rather an immense and mysterious whirlwind of froth and foam ascending as if a new planet were emerging from the sea. Of her Ungraspable Phantom, Robert K. Wallace movingly writes, "these layers of thought and feeling, along with the Turneresque layers of paint, create an apocalyptic vision of the brutal futility of Ahab's obsession as he drives his crew in a headlong rush to nothingness" (Wallace, "Beth Schultz"). In contrast to the large phantasmagoric representations of Moby Dick in the exhibition, Aileen Callahan's two intense charcoal drawings—The Split of the Plummeting Scales and In the Wake of the Skin (17 x 24 in.; Fig. 17)—focused on a vital cetacean feature: the whale's mysterious, hieroglyphic skin.
In earlier works, Piercefield notably sought to honor Moby Dick. In The Headwaters of Eternity (2004), she fused images of sea and sky to suggest that the White Whale's gaze encompasses both, and in 2009 she illuminated him swimming as "a mighty mildness in repose of swiftness" (Moby-Dick 548) through two horizontal panels of green sea, alive with multitudes of phytoplankton, minute sea creatures, and sun bursts. Her 2016 homage, Affadavit, is a jubilant celebration of whales in general as they are praised in chapter 45, "The Affadavit." In this collograph for "Adrift in the Wonder World," five sperm whales frolic together, each represented in different fabrics, with different designs and colors, suggesting different hieroglyphics on their skin.
Julia Oldham's representation of whales in her seven-minute animated video, Speak Thou Vast and Venerable Head, demands that viewers at Marta Hewett's gallery acknowledge the physicality and intelligence of whales. More than other women artists who represent cetaceans, she places the suffering of whales, the brutality of their slaughter, and the tragedy of their loss (especially of a mother whale and her babe) in the foreground. Drawn in black and grey with touches of red, accompanied by a soundtrack of bubbles, an ominous hollow gong, and a tinkling bell, her video imagines a profound conversation between Ahab and a slain and chained mother whale on the deck of the Pequod (Fig. 18), with Oldham herself giving voice to both characters. The dialogue in part draws on Melville's words from chapter 70, "The Sphynx," but Oldham incorporates her own stark imagery into the conversation as Ahab and the slain mother whale discuss their antithetical views of life: Ahab's denial, sorrow, and futility contrasting with the whale's hope and commitment to life in "the great [End Page 47]
[End Page 48] gliding." Opening with a depiction of the mother whale and her babe, still attached by the umbilical cord, the video concludes with a startling image of a massive rope emerging from Ahab's navel, dropping down, down, into the sea's depths, moving past the sleeping crew, crossing Moby Dick's staring eye, until it ends in an anchor at the bottom of the sea, suggesting the futility and finality of Ahab's life
Working with ceramics, a medium that Moby-Dick artists rarely use,14 Monica Namyar created works depicting Moby Dick as well as several portraits of the novel's characters for "Adrift in the Wonder World." Two Moby Dick vessels emphasize circularity. One depicts the White Whale's eye in the base of its interior, at the center of circles within circles, with lines around the cup's exterior; the other depicts the whale swimming around the outside of a cup. Both suggest the whale's endless vitality and mystery. Namyar excels in ceramic portraiture. She shows Ahab's scared face surrounding a cup. On a frontal diptych of Ishmael and Queequeg, the two friends face each other, gazing at each other, a vibrant, stippled background behind them, alluding to the complex universe of signs that they share (Fig. 19). Namyar's coil-built, three-dimensional stoneware sculpture of Ahab and Fedallah, titled The Pledge, shows their heads bound together, facing in opposite directions and differentiated by hairstyle and beard, but sharing an intensity of focus. In the fall of 2016, Namyar completed a three-dimensional, nearly life-size head of Queequeg. With intense eyes, the work's soft brown underglaze, incised with [End Page 49] Maori tattoos, compellingly portrays Melville's beloved harpooner as "a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume" (Moby-Dick 480–81), yet "always equal to himself" (50).
Langdon and Piercefield, in particular, also insisted on giving women explicit roles in their works in "Adrift in the Wonder World." In doing so, they substantiated the work of recent Moby-Dick artists who have recognized women as being significant to a nuanced comprehension of Melville's narrative. Notably, the works of Ellen Driscoll and T. L. Solien were influenced by their reading Moby-Dick through a feminist lens. Driscoll created prints and sculptures (1998), envisioning Mrs. Ahab wearing an incapacitating hoop skirt but one imprinted with her dreams of oceans and continents, whereas in certain of Solien's paintings and collages, a fearless female figure, despite confinement by her skirts, performs with bravado. In Solien's works, Mrs. Ahab climbs into the masthead ("Standing Masthead," 2005; Fig. 20), and in multiple pictures she is shown to be more energetic than her husband. In Night Nurse (2005), he is depicted lying abed, dreaming of the White Whale, while she appears—as if embodying the White Whale—towering over him in her white hoop skirt.
Langdon actually imagined and embodied herself as a gentle white female Queequeg in 1996, creating a body-cast of herself, completely tattooed [End Page 50]
with her own "theory of heaven and earth" (Moby-Dick 480; Thompson and Wallace 26–29). In her 2016 The Warrior, however, she is no longer a quiescent Queequeg reposing in her coffin. In an enlarged photo of herself as Queequeg, she is shown thrusting herself up from the depths, harpoon held over her head (Fig. 21). Face and shoulders fully tattooed in Maori designs stitched into the image, she asserts herself as a forceful woman for all times. Piercefield inserts women into Moby-Dick's narrative via two works, both titled Women of New Bedford, both in drypoint collograph. In the first, done in 2004, she imagines a female bowsprit for the Pequod (Thompson and Wallace 54–59). Piercefield's lovely bare-breasted figure asserts herself between the ship's railing decorated with sperm whale teeth and whales diving into the sea beneath her. Thus, like the male members of the Pequod's crew, this female bowsprit, too, is suspended between death and life. In Piercefield's second portrayal, The Women of New Bedford: Captains' Wives, which was part of the "Adrift in the Wonder World" exhibition, she imagines a homebound crew of women, cloaked and bonneted, [End Page 51] competent and solid. They hover over the city and over oceans, as if contemplating their husbands, brothers, sons, long absent from home (Fig. 22). Long separated from these men-folk, it is they who have had charge of their families and communities.
In 2016, Duston Spear also began a series of paintings, collectively titled Pieces of the Whale and explicitly drawing on Moby-Dick. In her works, she sought to explore ways in which to transform a conventional painting's flat canvas (Spear). She explains that her first encounter with Melville's novel was through John Houston's 1956 film in which Ahab (not Fedallah), tied to Moby Dick in the story's conclusion, appears thrust toward the viewers above the [End Page 52] whale's white surface. Envisioning her large white canvas in Bounty #4 (20 x 42 x 12 in.) as "a surrogate whale boat," she draped actual nets filled with diverse objects, including silver tableware, along one side of it. These objects suggest to her the bounty of the sea provided by slaughtered whales. In this piece, the netted silverware juts forth beyond the edge of the painting's flat surface, tilting forward into the viewers' space. In another painting, she imagined Ahab as an urn, his body projecting into the viewers' space and bound by actual ropes. She evokes the White Whale in swooping, looping lines on another large white canvas, Appalling Whiteness (67 x 58 in.), emphasizing the rough surface of his skin as well as his eerie whiteness. Another work, It Was the Whiteness (46 x 22 in.), fixes a ghostly drawing of the whale's skeleton on separate paper with the painting's title partially written beneath, so that the letters seem to be adrift across the center of the canvas.
Awareness of the power of transforming literature into art led Spear in 2017 to co-curate "The Moby-Dick Project," a collaborative art exhibition featuring the work of women incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. The women's art—including a series of powerful portraits of [End Page 53] whaling men, as well as pieces reflecting their personal aesthetic engagement with questions of isolation, obsession, hallucination, and trauma—appeared alongside Spear's own Moby-Dick paintings and work by other Moby-Dick artists, including Benton Spruance, Eleen Lin, Diane Samuels, and Fred Benenson. Chosen as the Melville Society Cultural Project's 2017 Archive Artist at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Spear also created two artists' books reflecting her knowledge of ships' logbooks kept by nineteenth-century whalers. Beginning with the logbooks' handwritten, opening phrase, "The day begins," Spear then posts on each of her pages a tactile representation of objects that appear evocatively in Melville's novel, including a lump of ambergris, white paper for map-making, and letters (see Wallace, "Pre-Marathon New Bedford").
Implicitly recognizing that Moby-Dick concerns humanity at large and can no longer be considered "a boys' book," several male artists have transformed the conventional gender of the novel's characters. Mark Milloff inserted a serene and forward-looking visage of his blond wife Chris as the Pequod's bowsprit in his large 2002 pastel Queequeg's Long Last Dive, which depicts the mayhem following the ship's demolition. Later in 2015, Milloff began work on a series of large narrative paintings in which women take the position of Moby-Dick's male characters. I have seen only one of these subversive works, Stubb Kills a Whale, a painting in which Stubb, a hefty blonde nude, savagely attacks a whale (Fig. 23). In this painting, Milloff legitimates the feminist bottom-line: women can be heroes; they can and have done any work that men do, in Melville's time as well as ours; they also have been bloodied by the madness and dangers of slaughter, not to mention war. Commenting on the difference between the exhibition of two Moby-Dick male artists, Robert Del Tredici and Matt Kish, and the exhibition of women artists occurring simultaneously in Cincinnati in 2016, I noted that, in general, Moby-Dick women artists tend to avoid imagery of anger, ferocity, violence, and terror and instead evoke friendship, peace, and wonder (Wallace, "Beth Schultz").
In startling images, three international artists have tinkered with Moby Dick's gender. Mexican artist José Antonio Farrera purposefully transforms Moby Dick into a woman. As part of an exhibition titled "Description of a Journey," organized by the Mexican Consulate in Kansas City, Farrera displayed five portraits of Moby-Dick characters.15 Done in 2009 in thick dark oils, four of these portraits evoke men on a perpetual voyage of doom—a Drunken Sailor, Starbuck, Queequeg, and Ahab. In the fifth portrait, The Great White Whale, Farrera presents his Moby Dick: a nude woman, cowering in darkness, her legs gathered close to her body, her arms hiding her breasts, her hands clutched beneath her chin. While this enigmatic She Moby seems both vulnerable and [End Page 54] alluring, she also resembles Melville's White Whale in being the object of desperate desire, conjured by feverish passion and pursued with intensity, even insanity, by Ahab and the men of the Pequod—not to mention, subsequently, by hordes of scholars and artists who desire to know her.
Two manga artists, Kotobuki Shiriagari and Katsuhiro Otomo, also imagine Moby Dick's gender as fluid, their picture narratives occurring in sequence in a special Melville issue of the Japanese literary journal Eureka (2002).16 While Shiriagari allows readers of his comic strip to see Moby Dick as homosexual, transgender, or female,17 Otomo envisions an entire family of White Whales, including both "Mom" and "Dad." In gritty black-and-white images, Shiriagari's eight-page manga presents a poignant, if bizarre, pictorial narrative of an obsessed, down-and-out fisherman who relates the story of his single-minded passion for a White Whale. Shiriagari delineates the fisherman's first sexual encounter with the whale, as he plunges himself into the whale's flesh, his anguished climax wordlessly depicted in graphic terms, following his [End Page 55] statement that "In the smell of the sea, I felt as if I was enveloped, hugged by its immensity" (107). When the object of his obsession mysteriously vanishes, the fisherman stalks him/her through Tokyo's underworld just as Ahab searched the seas for Moby Dick. Desperately trying to find his White Whale, he persists for years, searching through garbage for clues, writing notes, and calling on his phone. When he finally encounters his beloved, he murders him/her, stabbing wildly with blood flying across the page. Shiriagari's penultimate image, a two-page spread, depicts an immense white whale, smeared with blood, lying coiled in a small room on top of the detritus of contemporary life. The narrative's final full page reveals the narrator, diminutive but smiling with satisfaction. As if floating in a dream, he is grasped between the White Whale's fins or clings there in coitus, saying, "I'll never let you go" (111). Shiriagari's pictorial story of sexual obsession not only provides a commentary on Ahab's monomania but also is ironically contextualized by the narrative's second image, showing masses of people holding up "Save the Whale" posters as the fisherman is taken into custody.
In Otomo's intricate black-and-white drawings, the jagged outlines of Ahab's conversational balloons are differentiated from those of the whales, which are smooth. Otomo's manga opens with Ahab raging, praying to a "God of Death" (113) and lashing his men with words to attack the "White Devil," who, as if responding to Ahab, rises before them like a "snow hill in the air" (Moby-Dick 7). Suddenly Ahab is shown aghast as one massive rounded hump becomes two White Whales in the churning sea. Otomo surprises both the reader and Ahab, who continues to lash out at his men, by showing Ahab suddenly confronted with multiplying White Whales—first Moby Dad and son and then Moby Mom, sister, and younger brother. Otomo shows the immense whales swimming away at ease, conversing amiably and placidly, as a Japanese family might over dinner. The whales are deciding which ocean they should head for next, while Ahab and his crew rage and flounder in the sea, reduced in the manga's final images to mere drifting dots. In the final panel, the members of the whale family, as they steam away in a now calm sea, share a final, single word, "God" (118), and the viewer of the manga is left to wonder if, indeed, the whales might be referring to their collective, amiable selves.
Four Moby-Dick Artists for the Long Haul
Many artists over the course of decades have created only a single work of art related to Moby-Dick; others, like Rockwell Kent, Frank Stella, and Matt Kish have created hundreds of Moby-Dick works in a relatively short span of time. This final section focuses on the significant [End Page 56] work of Robert Del Tredici, Mark Milloff, Aileen Callahan, and Matt Kish. All four of these remarkably diverse artists have dedicated—and continue to dedicate—a significant portion of their artistic lives to Moby-Dick. Whereas the Moby-Dick work of Del Tredici, Milloff, and Callahan began in the twentieth century and extends to the present, in the last few years Kish has been unflagging in his commitment to translating Melville's work into images, not only in Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page but also in subsequent work, including his portraits of the novel's characters, his illustrations of "Cetology," his eighty-one drawings for "Extracts," and his new illustrations for "Benito Cereno."18 While these four artists differ from each other radically, in terms of media and their interpretations of Moby-Dick, they all have committed themselves to the endeavor of attempting to "grasp the ungraspable" in visual terms and in so doing have developed compelling aesthetic and personal perspectives on the novel.
Beginning with his earliest Moby-Dick work in the late 1960s, Del Tredici has linked a comic vision of Moby-Dick to a cosmic vision, cartoonish figures to complex, metaphysical designs. In pen-and-ink drawings, each with a quotation from the novel, he xeroxed his first responses to Moby-Dick on colored and white paper (8 1/2 x 11 in.), selling or giving them away on San Francisco streets (Figs. 24 and 25). He claims that "Melville's novel became my guide on how to wander and how to see. . . . It became my Bible; I couldn't have lived without it" (Schultz, Unpainted 210–28). His Moby-Dick work was temporarily interrupted by his decision to travel, photographing the impact of nuclear experiments on human lives and on the environment. Given Melville's understanding of "human ruthlessness," Del Tredici believes that Melville would not have been surprised by scenes of nuclear devastation (Resmer 38A). In the late 1990s, he returned to illuminating Moby-Dick, seeking to visualize the epic nature of the novel. He enlarged many of his original drawings and created new ones, introducing color, mica, and what he identifies as a "kaleidoscopic style" into his works (Schultz, "Seer & the Scene" 3). Later, continuing to revise his techniques for interpreting Moby-Dick, he turned to silkscreen and serigraph. With these new techniques, Del Tredici brought "transparency, iridescence, sweeping gestures" to his late twentieth-century Moby-Dick works, imparting vibrancy and layering them in recognition of Melville's many layered prose (email to the author, 15 Jan. 2015).
And to the present moment, Del Tredici has not ceased to interpret Moby-Dick visually. Reconsidering his Moby-Dick drawings of the sixties, he recently confessed, "It's an odd profession, this making of illustrations to Moby-Dick. The book crowds in on me, then recedes like a tide. The pictures are live critters toiling up from the depths in the surge that comes through my system [End Page 57]
from a briny place not in time" (email to the author, 13 Feb. 2015). The novel has always had for him, he states, "the power of the law of gravity . . . it treats the reader royally by always dealing with origins and fundamentals" (email to the author, 15 Jan. 2015). Printing his most recent reincarnations of his early Moby-Dick sketches on silvery, metallic Fuji paper on his computer, Del Tredici became explosive, his images seeming to leap up from the paper's flat [End Page 58]
surface. He hopes not only to "enhance the mercurial" but also "to penetrate that vault guarded by dwarves deep inside our brains" (email to the author, 15 Jan. 2015). While occasionally still referencing his first Moby-Dick pieces and projecting a similar sense of design and wit, increasingly his work is characterized by abstraction and a philosophic sensibility. In these new pieces, he [End Page 59] flies free, letting himself explore Melville's novel like the Catskill eagle, who can "alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces" (Moby-Dick 425).
Always committed to an ironic, exploratory Ishmaelian perspective in his drawings, Del Tredici has turned in his current works to consider both Ahab's anger as well as his anguish. In three new portraits of Ahab, each veering toward abstraction, he suggests the shifting phases of the Captain's anguish (Pl. 11). In each case, it is as if not only Ahab, but the world itself has become scarred and shattered (Pl. 12). Painfully, Del Tredici renders Ahab's face, abstractly striated and gashed as he tries to acknowledge his concern for Pip. Dawn Coleman praises another one of Del Tredici's recent images of Ahab, observing that he movingly illustrates Melville's comparison of Ahab to Prometheus; she notes that he creates a pietà in which a vulture, "head feathers in a spiked halo . . . holds Ahab's emaciated body on its lap. Blasted if he be, Ahab has his humanities—and his divinity, too" ("Whales in Cincinnati" 127). These new Del Tredici works, along with new Moby-Dick works created by Matt Kish, were the basis for the provocative 2016 Cincinnati exhibition, "Chasing the Whale and Other Endless Pursuits," a title suggesting the profound and continuing fascination of Melville's novel for these artists. Del Tredici has returned repeatedly to Moby-Dick and to his earliest interpretations of the novel, likening his pursuit to the way a soothsayer returns to bones and entrails (Del Tredici interview) for ever-fresh readings of reality.
An exhibition at the Lyman Allen Museum in New London, Conn., from Sept. 2013 to Jan. 2014, embraced the thirty-five years of Mark Milloff's involvement with Moby-Dick. Titled "Milloff's Melvilles: The Artist Renders the Whale," the exhibition included his immense, realistic paintings, done in pastel; his large sculptural wall-hangings; several abstract paintings, inches thick with white paint; and his "poontars," guitar-like instruments to be played by a harpoon.19 It was an exuberant exhibition, charged with virtuosity and vitality and evoking contemplation. Milloff's earliest Moby-Dick paintings—The Chase—The Third Day, Stripping the Whale (Pl. 13), Attacking the Pod, or the Living Wall, How Ahab Lost His Leg, Queequeg Rescues Tashtego, and The Dying Whale—all large panoramic pastels, created in 1985 and 1986, are compacted of life and death. They pulsate with blood and gore, the horror of murder and mayhem, the perils of whaling, and yet Milloff's energetic lines and sensual colors also reveal the vigorous dynamic of life (Schultz, Unpainted 240–56). In these early works, which depict a democratic fraternity chaotically conducting its business of survival, Queequeg stands out as the hero (Schultz, "Visualizing" 27). He not only appears in charge of the whaling ship's dangerous business but also cares for those in trouble. [End Page 60]
During the nineties and at the beginning of this century, Milloff shifted his aesthetic, while remaining true to Moby-Dick. From screaming, cinematic realism, usually horizontal in format, he turned to abstraction, sensuous and contemplative. Rather than vivid pastels, he began using thick titanium white with deep underlying colors, laid on in circular patterns or in quivering, striated lines in large square paintings with Melvillian titles, such as Sideways Churning Through the Sea, The Whiteness of the Whale (Fig. 26), Pale and From the Depths, And the Great Shroud of the Sea Rolled On, and Plato's Head. In these contemplative, abstract works, Milloff was able to emphasize the deeply sensuous aspects of Moby-Dick's narrative: pliant spermacetti, the whale's tactile, hieroglyphic skin, and the always undulating, shivering, and indecipherable sea. [End Page 61]
At the beginning of this century, Milloff returned to creating his large-scale pastel works with, if possible, even greater intensity and an expressed commitment to sharing the thrill he himself has experienced in adventure paintings, in film, and in Moby-Dick: "I want the viewer to witness what I've witnessed while adventuring in the book" (Milloff, "Artist's Statement"). These paintings—Fata Morgana (Pl. 14), Drawn Up Toward Heaven By Invisible Wires, Queequeg's Last Long Dive, An American Whaler Caught While Baling the Case by Piratical Malays in the Straits of Sunda During a Squall, and When Ahab Seized the Long Bone—perpetuate the vortexes of his abstract works. Perceived from an aerial perspective, with figures swirling in chaos, the action in these paintings is antic: birds swim, fish fly, water gyrates, blood gushes, harpoons and oars leap out of the canvas, humans float through air; abstraction and realism merge, ropes spiralize and twist, connecting all forms, and the White Whale dominates, its eyes rolling along the edge of Fata Morgana, staring at the viewer in Drawn Up Toward Heaven. Yet in the midst of the mayhem of Moby-Dick's last scenes, Milloff depicts the novel's familiar characters in dramatic ways. In Drawn Up Toward Heaven, Fedallah, cast as an Osama ben Laden look-alike, is snared through the top of the painting, and in Queequeg's Last Dive, Queequeg persists in trying to help others. In the midst of these phantasmagoric pictures, Milloff places a mystical figure. Whether the artist himself (Milloff interview), Ishmael, or a spiritual persona, the still point this figure evokes in these frenzied late paintings captivates the viewer, although the characters in the swirling environments appear indifferent to his presence. For Milloff, Moby-Dick keeps on unfolding visually in terms of color, texture, space, rhythm, and an ever-liberating sensuality, evoking a muscular ribaldry and eroticism (Milloff interview). In early 2015, he completed a series of new oil paintings, all drawing on Melville's drama, except for the critical change mentioned above: women have replaced men, thus suggesting that even as Milloff's Moby-Dick works awaken all of our senses—bleeding, roaring, trembling, redolent of the sights, sounds, and stench of the ocean of life—they also awaken us to startling new ways of reading the novel and our lives.
Aileen Callahan's visual fascination with Moby-Dick began in 1989 with a large oil painting (58 x 62 in.) titled Buoy of Whales that projects a pod of swirling whales in dense and vibrant colors. Three years later, however, realizing the immensity of undertaking the illumination of many whales, let alone one whale, she shifted to focusing on individual organs of the whale, beginning with her painting, Breaching Heart (58 x 70 in.; Pl. 15). In order to convey a surging sense of uplift in this painting, Callahan arranged her canvases with a strong vertical section across the top, supported beneath by two broad horizontal canvases, the lower one smaller than the middle canvas. Together [End Page 62] they support the upward motion of the pulsating heart. Painted against a dark background in reds with blue striations, the image throbs. Callahan explains that the upward motion in Breaching Heart is intended to imply resurrection (Callahan interview, 2 Feb. 2015), but the painting's shape and the dark, open-ended aorta also connote crucifixion. This awareness of life's interplay of agony and joy informs all of her Moby-Dick paintings, from her earliest to her most recent works.
Callahan's 2000 White Whale: Moby Dick I (86 x 96 in.) consists of two parts (Pl. 16). She explains this major painting as a site of antitheses: "Visualizing Moby Dick is like visualizing the sea, his element. He is present but elusive, massive yet dissolving into passing motion, weighted yet buoyant . . . imagination and physical reality ignite each other" ("Eye to Eye" 52). In this large complex oil painting, Callahan's whale first sweeps in toward us, his flukes receding behind in the distance, water shimmering and streaming golden and lavender from his immense body, both water and whale quivering enigmatically, electrically alive. Moby Dick's skin here is haunted with hieroglyphs, revealing his history of encounters with humans, creatures of the deep, diverse geological and geographical sites, and also his own unfathomable mystery ("Eye to Eye" 54–55). As the whale appears to approach us from this large canvas, we come eye-to-eye with his immense eye in a second, small canvas, emphasizing our own consciousness that in this encounter all that is "to be seen, decoded, interrelated, and placed in experience" occurs in "a blink of the eye" ("Eye to Eye" 57).
In the interest of seeing the whole, Callahan continues to examine parts of the whale. In an astonishing ecofeminist series of forty small oils (20 x 16 in. and 10 x 16 in.) titled The Birth of Moby Dick and completed in 2002, she develops the birthing scenes alluded to in chapter 77, "The Great Heidelburgh Tun," and chapter 87, "The Grand Armada." Imagining the fetus as it evolves in the womb, changing form and color, she anticipates Moby Dick's life as one of energy and tragedy and concludes her series with an enigmatic image in ghostly white (Fig. 27). In 2004, she elaborated on an early image, developing a series based on Moby Dick's mouth, titled Furnace Mouth. Perceiving the mouth mythically and simultaneously as signifying destruction and regeneration, Callahan used a vigorous palette of deep colors to create images that draw us into a cauldron of volcanic fires or a cave of swirling phosphorescent light.
Recently, changing her media to charcoal with chalk and wash and working in a much smaller scale, Callahan has created drawings of Moby Dick's spinal column and flukes, choosing to focus primarily on images of the whale's back skin, such as in the two works shown with other women artists in the "Adrift in the Wonder World" exhibition and discussed above. In these works, [End Page 63]
[End Page 64] she envisions the warp of the White Whale's back, its carbuncles, the spine's rotation, shaft, coil, and tail. Her 2009 exhibition of twenty-eight of these pieces at Shippensburg University was titled "The Open Surface," implying her conviction that the whale's experiences, his ongoing receptivity to anguish and wonder and to weather and time, can be revealed by close attention to a single physical aspect. Callahan believes that "We live in an imprinted world. And this imprinted world we carry with us" (Callahan interview, 2 Feb. 2015). Emphatically rejecting illustration as a designation for her Moby-Dick works, she fuses realism with abstraction, a spare design with throbbing dimensions, expressing her intention to draw the viewer into contemplating the White Whale as "Being" (Callahan interview, 9 Feb. 2015).20
The catalyst for Matt Kish's monumental illustrated edition of Moby-Dick was Claus Hoie's Pursuit of the Great White Whale on the Signet edition cover and Bill Sienkiewicz's 1990 graphic novel of Moby-Dick (Schultz, Unpainted 238, 83–86; Kish interview with the author, 9 Feb. 2015).21 Apart from these works, Kish states that he intentionally did not examine scholars' or other artists' interpretations of the novel during the eighteen months he closeted himself daily to create his illustrations. He describes "the mosaic narrative of Melville's complex and mighty book" (Moby-Dick in Pictures ix) as "rich, rowdy, raucous, and intimate" and his project as "an attempt to fully understand this magnificent novel, to walk through every sun-drenched word, to lift up all the hatches and open all the barrels, to smell, taste, hear, and see every seabird, every shark, every sailor, every harpooner, and every whale" (Kish, promotional materials 2). Kish found the experience of creating a Moby-Dick image each day to be both devotional and delusional: "I began to identify with Ahab's self-imposed isolation, and the world of the Pequod became more real than ordinary reality." His hope, however, as he approached each page, was "to make it a jewel" (Kish interview, 15 Jan. 2015).
A comic-book reader since childhood, Kish draws emphatically on comic-book techniques to project his visual interpretation of Melville's novel. However, like Melville's own diversity of styles, Kish's imagery shifts from the shock-and-awe designs and caricatures of comic books to abstract patterns, surrealism, psychedelic visions, and naturalistic, organic forms. His techniques shift from intricate delineations to simple washes, and his tone shifts from nightmarish to pastoral. Words written in a diversity of calligraphic styles frequently intrude into his drawings as they do in comic books. While a few of his pictures are superimposed on pages from Moby-Dick itself, including title pages from several editions of the novel, Kish primarily relies on found pages from a range of other books, printed with text, diagrams, and illustrations, thus giving his paintings a tantalizing "little lower layer" (Moby-Dick 164). Calling these [End Page 65] found pages "ephemera," Kish says he "was fascinated with the way certain elements of the diagrams showed through the paint, almost at random. To me, this hinted at a greater complexity and a hidden structure" (Kish, Moby-Dick in Pictures ix). Done in colored pencil, marker, ink, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, collage, and occasionally spray paint, Kish's 552 pictures—usually no larger than 8 1/2 x 11 inches—do indeed glow like jewels.22
In illustrating Melville's characters, Kish establishes recognizable visual icons. Beginning with Melville's opening line, Kish's Ishmael figure appears twenty times, a little like a whale, a little like a robot, a little like our own foolhardy selves. The word "ISHMAEL" identifies the image on the first page, but on the last page "ISHMAEL" is changed to "ORPHAN," reflecting the novel's final word (Moby-Dick 573). Queequeg, represented in sixty-four images, is frequently identified not only by "His Mark"—a Möbius strip and the letter Q—but also by a pattern of overlapping turquoise semi-circles, which might be scallop shells, stylized ocean waves, tattoos, or brain matter. When in "The Monkey-Rope" chapter, Ishmael and Queequeg's fates are fused, Kish brings together his iconic images for the characters (Fig. 28). Ahab appears in sixty images, initially as a pugnacious tank, but increasingly signified by a lightning streak, a staring eye, or an ominous black vulture-shaped shadow. As the iconography for Ishmael and Queequeg becomes fused in Kish's work, so does that for Ahab and Fedallah. At the end of Kish's visual reading of the novel, Ahab is shattered by lightning, his own sign (Pl. 17).
Most significantly, Kish draws whales and more whales—201 of his illustrations are of whales. Not only is chapter 32, "Cetology," his favorite chapter but Kish clearly shares a Melvillean delight in the spectacular diversity of cetaceans and cetacean experience. In Kish's iconography, a generic sperm whale appears frequently as a featureless, massive being (Pl. 18). But the whale's head may also appear with curvaceous, organic lines in green and gray, suggesting its massive brain. Kish's whale is represented in multiple other ways: as a looming eye, a bloody spout, or as just breathing easily, giving birth, blithely drifting among stars, panicked under attack and attacking, breaching like an armored creature from another planet, another age, or as a mysterious white hump or symbol (Fig. 29).
As did Kent for his edition of Moby-Dick, Kish has developed a cabalistic symbol system for his readers. Not only does he designate characters and whales with explicit signs, but he also uses a range of designs to signify predictable levels of emotional intensity. Thus, his pages come alive with eyes everywhere, human and cetacean, signifying consciousness; bolts of lightning imply danger, rows of teeth and bristling harpoons ferocity, skulls and dripping blood impending death. Also, like Kent, Kish discovers humor in Melville's prose. [End Page 66]
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Noting that Melville's humor is often overlooked, he savors the opportunity "to prod the sacred cow" in his pictures (Kish interview, 31 Jan. 2015). For example, he picks up on Ishmael's comic description of a squash-like whale in his chapter on cetacean art criticism by actually painting such a warty, reddish whale on a page with instructions for watering vegetables (Pl. 19), and he responds literally to Ishmael's statement that every sperm whale baby was indeed "an exotic" [End Page 68] (Moby-Dick 392) by representing newly born whales in a diverse range of fantastic, colorful, amoebic-like creatures. Kish prods the sacred cow further in drawing an eerie, whale-like blimp floating above a nineteenth-century frontier encampment to illustrate Ishmael's statement that "It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me" (Moby-Dick 188). In other instances, Kish enjoys allowing Peleg to exclaim "Blast" in psychedelic colors, to revel in Ishmael's intimate conversation with Pliny, and to laugh at Ishmael and perhaps himself, as a comic shoe kicks up colors on a sheet of found paper with "The Esthetic Experience" printed on it. Representing the covers for two imagined editions of Moby-Dick, one asserting "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method" and the other that "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme" (Moby-Dick 361, 456), Kish permits both himself and Melville to be satirically and slyly self-referential.
As in Melville's novel, the appearance of whale ships propels Kish's pictorial narrative, beginning with an image of the Pequod and concluding with one of the Rachel. His pictures also increasingly reveal his bold, political, and Melvillean subtext: an exploited underclass of US workers, capitalism's dependency on the military, and a global dependency on oil, murder, and war. Superimposed upon a text describing Jesus's resurrection, Kish's image of two crossed harpoons, forming a crucifix, provides a transcendent interpretation. Kish himself explains that as he moved toward drawing images for the novel's concluding chapters, he felt that "things have become surreal. It is almost a fantasy. They are sailing an infernal sea and the rules of nature no longer apply. . . . These are no longer earthly seas" (Borrelli). Thus, the range of Kish's art, like Melville's narrative, stretches from the hard-edged, brutal, and political to the fantastical and nightmarish, to the mythical and other-worldly. His images range from the intricate pen-and-ink rendering of Ahab's final encounter with Moby Dick, which incorporates several of the pictorial references Kish uses throughout his illustrated Moby-Dick, to a simple, penultimate image: a wash of blue watercolor signifying "the great shroud of the sea" (Moby-Dick 572; Pl. 20). Wondrously Kish embraces "the problem of plentitude" (Matthiessen 412) in Moby-Dick in single illustrations, such as his illustration for Pip's vision of "the unwarped primal world" (Moby-Dick 414; Fig. 30), as well as in his collective illustrations for Melville's novel, testifying that it is indeed "about everything. God. Love. Hate. Identity. Race. Sex. Humor. Obsession. History. Work. Capitalism. I could go on and on. I see every aspect of life reflecting in the bizarre mosaic of this book" (Inge 58).
Kish was still not finished with Melville's novel after completing One Drawing for Every Page. In 2016, as mentioned above, he went on to do what numerous Moby-Dick artists had done before: he created a full portrait gallery [End Page 69] of the crew in twelve stylized drawings. Then after designing bold images for duodecimo, octavo, and folio whales named in his most beloved chapter of the novel, "Cetology," Kish proceeded to do what no previous Moby-Dick artist had done: he illustrated "Extracts"—Melville's "higgledy-piggledy whale statements" (Moby-Dick xvii)—with brightly colored and diversely patterned, often grotesque whales, cavorting and staring out from the page with often more than one eye (Wallace, "Moby-Dick in Cincinnati"). Finally, Kish imagined ten recruiting posters for encouraging young men to join a whaling crew as they might join the army. Bold and brilliant in their colors and language, these posters are seductive but deadly in urging boys toward heroic dying. Of the exhibition of Del Tredici and Kish's combined works in Cincinnati, mentioned above, Dawn Coleman has cogently written, "If the collective visual extravaganza bore witness to many familiar themes—Ahab's anger, Ishmael's spiritual quest, the violence of whaling, and the mystery of the ocean—it also demonstrated that the esteemed tradition of Moby-Dick artmaking is thriving and evolving into the twenty-first century, as new artists bring their distinctive sensibilities and lines of sight to Melville's endlessly generative story" ("Whales in Cincinnati" 122).
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Echoing Cotkin's statement cited at the beginning of this essay, Harold Bloom has recently asserted that "We live in an age of visual over-stimulation" (64). Given this reality, perhaps Cotkin's question—"how well has Moby-Dick been reformulated in visual terms"—must remain unanswered to the last even as Moby Dick, whale and novel, remain "unpainted to the last." Even as Melville himself, in Matthiessen's terms, addressed the "problem of plentitude" through his depictions of whales and men, so, too, do artists and readers and scholars continue to be affirmed and challenged by Melville's all-embracing, all-encompassing vision. Although images of Moby-Dick have sometimes seemed to eclipse Melville's words, the plentitude of visual interpretations of Moby-Dick by artists from around the world may be celebrated. We celebrate because these multitudinous aesthetic responses, singly and collectively, inspire us to return to the novel and to see more deeply into it and into our own times, our own cultures, and our own lives. We celebrate because these interpretations urge us to see again and again Melville's own multi-faceted and nuanced vision and to appreciate the challenges and the revelations Moby-Dick offers. [End Page 71]
. This essay is dedicated to my longtime and always inspiring companion in the study of Melville and the arts, Bob Wallace.
Gratitude to many Moby-Dick artists for their personal inspiration: Susan Broadman, Kim Bromley, Aileen Callahan, Matt Kish, Robert Del Tredici, Jane Freeman, George Klauba, Mark Milloff, Kathleen Piercefield, T. L. Solien. In addition to Bob Wallace, who has been on the voyage of discovering Melville in the arts with me since 1995, gratitude to many friends and fellow scholars in the wonderful world of Melville studies for their support and diverse kindnesses, including George Cotkin, Sachiko Gomi, Sam Otter, Ikuno Saiki, Masami Sugimori, Takayuki Tatsumi, and Barbara Zabel. Special thanks to Pam LeRow for helping me with the preparation of this manuscript.
1. For over twenty years, Robert K. Wallace has taught a course titled "Moby-Dick and the Arts" at Northern Kentucky University. Encouraging his students throughout these years to respond to Moby-Dick with visual creations, he has been able to mount several exhibitions that showcased their diverse and stunning achievements and that have received wide attention. In 2015, many of his students' works were shown collectively in a NKU exhibition, accompanied by an academic conference and an informative and inspiring 150-page catalogue of their works. See Thompson and Wallace.
2. The catalogue for an art exhibition focusing on Moby-Dick in the Schlesweig-Holstein Landesmuseum in Germany in 1976 was an initial catalyst for my writing Unpainted to the Last. Following its publication, with assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I was able to mount exhibitions based on some of the works discussed in it at the University of Kansas, the University of Michigan, and Northwestern University. Other exhibitions, bringing together the work of numerous Moby-Dick artists, well-known and lesser-known, have occurred across the country. Several shows have been mounted in recent years, including those at the Shippensberg University Museum in Pennsylvania (2006); Rockford College Art Museum in Illinois (2009); "Moby Dick on the Delaware Art Show" in New Hope, Pennsylvania (2010); the Wattis Institute in Los Angeles (2010), with thirty-one new Moby-Dick artists represented; London's Parfitt Gallery (2011); the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2013); Northern Kentucky University (2015, prompted by Robert K. Wallace's decades of instruction on "Moby-Dick and the Arts"); as well as two exhibitions in Cincinnati (2016), one featuring Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici, the other featuring nine women artists. In addition, individual Moby-Dick artists have recently been celebrated with solo exhibitions, including Tony de los Reyes at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (2011), Kimble Bromley and T. L. Solien in interrelated shows at the Plains Art Museum in North Dakota (2012), and Andrew Glass at the Danforth Art Museum in Massachusetts (2013).
3. In 1956, Everett Henry created a lithographic calendar depicting twelve literary journeys based on British and American literature, one of which shows the Pequod's course from West to East, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, turning increasingly bloody in color. Printed in Cleveland, this map was used to advertise the capabilities of the Harris-Seybold Company. Dutch artist Charley Reuver also used maps behind the image of his depiction of The Chase (1989).
4. These three translations (in 1968 with illustrations by S. Ostrov, in 1987 with illustrations by B. A. Anikin, and in 1992 in a reprint from the Italian with illustrations by Libico Maraja) will not be discussed in this essay. Nor will the two unabridged Russian editions of Moby-Dick with illustrations by Rockwell Kent. All of these editions appeared prior to 1995.
5. Dawn Coleman's review of Chabouté's Moby-Dick makes special note of the loss of Pip from this visual narrative, noting that his absence not only diminishes the representation of Ahab's character but also "downplays Melville's engagement with America's vexed racial history" (132).
6. The numerous CD covers for music related to Moby-Dick are also worthy of discussion, in particular the cover for the Evangenitals' Moby-Dick; or, The Album, which features the White Whale, winged, flying above the sea. See "Recent Cultural Fallout" on Power Moby-Dick: The Online Annotation at <www.powermobydick.com/Moby151.html>.
7. The Library Foundation's program included diverse events in the Los Angeles area asking "readers across the city to re-examine the story of Captain Ahab and his obsession with the whale in context with modern days." See <https://7ft4520lbs.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/shepard-fairy-X-moby-dick/>.
8. Bozhkov is also reportedly creating other art works dealing with the implications of mutiny in chapter 54, "The Town Ho's Story."
9. Between 2008 and 2012, musician Patrick Shea wrote a song for every chapter in Moby-Dick, under the general title, "Call Me Ishmael." Lively drawings, based on the characters and events in the novel, appear on each of his six album covers. Notably, he depicts Ishmael and Queequeq whistling, with notes flying in the air between them as they move their wheelbarrow through New Bedford's streets.
10. Gréaud relates his sculpture to a larger semiotic project, which he describes as discovering "the meaning of meaning, and who is in charge of making definitions" (Gréaud). He discusses not only the myths, tales, and stories he drew upon in creating his sculpture but also Melville's use of myth in describing whales in general and Moby Dick in particular.
11. Kirchhefer's small (6 x 4 in.) hand-colored engraving, The morning of the third day dawned fair and fresh (2004), depicts an empty whaleboat, its oars in place, implying the tragic loss of its entire crew on the second day of the chase for Moby Dick. Watson's impressive oil, The Chase—First Day (68 x 50 in., 2010), focuses on the clash between whale and whaleboat as the whale's jaw and the boat form an X—a visual chiasmus placed in the midst of white spray and spume.
13. Other paintings in Furnas's "If Wishes Were Fishes" exhibition, titled "Ahab" and "The Flensers," as well as several focused on Jonah, also relate to Moby-Dick.
14. Prior to the "Adrift in the Wonder World" exhibition, Danielle Wallace created a ceramic tea set for Robert K. Wallace's class on "Moby-Dick and the Arts," in which the cups depicted various crew members drowning in the tea poured in each cup.
15. I am grateful to Alezandre Siqueros, the Mexican Consulate General, for introducing me to this exhibition of Farrera's paintings.
16. "Hakugei" ("White Whale") is the title for all manga works mentioned, including both Shiriagari's and Otomo's works. Although Otomo's work was originally published in Popcorn (June 1980), his and Shiriagari's works appear together in Eureka.
17. It is noteworthy that when the fisherman in Shiriagari's manga makes reference to his White Whale, he uses the pronoun "soitsu," which carries in Japanese neither a masculine nor a feminine connotation.
18. Kish has recently indicated that "Someday I hope to have the wisdom and perseverance to understand and illustrate The Confidence Man, but that is some time off" (email to the author).
19. Milloff plays these guitars, which he made from mahogany cigar boxes to which he added sound boxes and objects with whaling connections, in his band, "The Cannibal Ramblers." Each of his four poontars is named for one of the Pequod's four ethnic harpooners.
20. In 2018, Callahan extended her interpretations of Moby Dick to embrace his mother and her imagined suffering. Her recent video, titled The Mother's Song, combines new paintings with music, projecting the possibility that Moby Dick remembers and sings his mother's song.
21. Ahab's eyes, as depicted by Hoie, appear in the upper right-hand corner of Kish's impressive two-page drawing of the sperm whale (Pl. 18). It is also noteworthy that at the time he was working on his Moby-Dick illustrations, Kish knew of Zak Smith's page-by-page illustrations (2006) of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, a novel influenced by Moby-Dick (Kish interview on PBS NewsHour).