After our class returned from the trip to Evanston, after seeing the incredible variety of visual interpretations allowed for by the novel, many of us got it into our heads to do our own visual art. Dr. Wallace gave us the opportunity to do just that with our end-of-the-semester projects.
With only a few short weeks left before the final presentations were scheduled to be given, we were quietly brainstorming when Nathan suggested creating a Web page in which each of the students could take part. We were all in awe of the possibilities of this. After he calmly explained to us that this did not involve spiders--as the name suggested--but rather computers, many in the class were not relieved one bit. Nevertheless, we plowed forward, and I quickly forgot about doing a final project of my own.
I originally intended to compose a musical piece interpreting excerpts from the novel, but the longer I postponed working on it the more unlikely it seemed. Finally I decided that if I had to do a project in a short time it would have to be a visual art work. I always considered myself talented enough to pull off a painting, moreso than a musical composition that I really didn't have the skills yet to compose. And so, with only two weeks left before the presentations, I began drawing and sketching ideas.
I already knew what part of the novel I wanted to focus on. Chapter 3, The Spouter-Inn, not because of the initial meeting of Ishmael and Queequeg (that situation lends itself more to 80s sit-coms than painting), but rather the first moments when Ishmael enters the inn and spots that portentous painting on the wall.
It was a "boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly" as he puts it, and the fact that it was so "thoroughly besmoked" and besooted and just plain old and filthy was enough to draw him magnetically to it, that he might figure out just what it was supposed to represent. After much scrutiny and careful thought he decides that it depicts a whaling vessel in the middle of a tropical storm, and looming over the ship is a large whale in the process of impaling itself on the mastheads. A more gruesome foreshadowing there could not have been, and yet our analytical protagonist just walks away from it without another thought. Perhaps it is easier to ignore such a portent when one does not have the advantage of "reader perspective", by which I mean most Americans--even those who fall asleep at the first mention of Moby-Dick--know how the book ends. Taking the next step--treating the painting as a literal foretelling of the fate of the Pequod--was just too tempting. I had to paint that picture myself, with the white whale in the unenviable position of sea-faring shish kabob.
My interpretation is an acrylic painting with pastels and charcoal mixed in to give the paint more of the qualities of oils that I was compromising by using the quicker-drying medium. By drawing on the surface first I was able to achieve subtle blending that would not have been possible with acrylics alone (not as slow as I paint, anyway). I set to painting it as if it were a normal day at sea rather than a fearsome storm, and I kind of regret that now. I think now that I should have kept closer to Ishmael's description of the work than what I thought the day was like during the final chase scene. After realizing that it was, in fact, too bright and cheery for what I was trying to represent, I smeared the whole surface with powdered charcoal. A badly-shaken can of hairspray squirted on the surface gave me enough moisture to give the painting that "been-sitting-in-a-dirty-inn-for-a-century-or-two" look. You know what I mean. The end result is what you see.