Wednesday, June 16, 2010

MOBY-DICK, Page 281

Title: The crotch alluded to on a previous page deserves independent mention. It is a notched stick of a peculiar form, some two feet in length, which is perpendicularly inserted into the starboard gunwale near the bow, for the purpose of furnishing a rest for the wooden extremity of the harpoon, whose other naked, barbed end slopingly projects from the prow. Thereby the weapon is instantly at hand to its hurler, who snatches it up as readily from its rest as a backwoodsman swings his rifle from the wall.

11 inches by 8 inches
acrylic paint on found paper
June 14, 2010


  1. Alas! The single most distinctive feature of a whaleboat is that it has a pointed stern. This was why Shackleton referred to his ship's boats as "the cutter" and "the whaler" - because only one had a transom.
    Otherwise, I love this whole project top to bottom and am slightly perplexed by the literalness of this panel. But in a good way.

  2. Richard, thank you for the intriguing comment. The lack of a drastically pointed stern was not intentional, but it does reflect how this entire illustration project is born entirely from my own head and not the result of any period research at all. I don't think either approach is any better or worse but, when I began this project, I knew that artists such as Rockwell Kent and Barry Moser, to name just two, had already created absolutely beautiful and impressively accurate sets of illustrations for the novel. I didn't think there was anything at all I could do to top that, and I was more interested in my own personal vision of the novel anyway (i.e. sailors as metallic constructs that vaguely resemble ships, whales which look more like sea monsters, ships made of crystal and bricks covered with spikes and masks, and so on). My illustrations so far have been more fantastic than realistic by a long shot.

    However, you nicely alluded to the paradox in this image especially - the perplexing literalness. A few things. First, when I began this project, I decided there would be no rules. I would draw or paint what I wanted, how I wanted, with whatever media I wanted, moved only by my imagination and not chained to any specific kind of representation. Which is why some whales look fairly realistic while others have 4 eyes.

    With this piece in particular though, I was deeply impressed by and fascinated with Melville's very matter-of-fact explanation of the crotch. Melville does this at several points during the novel, taking the reader aside and explaining in great yet plain detail what things are and how they work. That in turn started me thinking about folk art, and how much of it so startlingly literal and direct. Artists simply trying to recreate something with paint on a panel. So with this piece, I wanted to explore that approach and with simple images depict what Melville, in simple words, was explaining.

    I'm not sure (never sure, really) how often I will return to this kind of thing, but I actually had great fun making this piece. And I am grateful for your comment and questions.


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