This photograph was taken by Robert K. Wallace for educational purposes only. Benton Spruance's "Strike Through the Mask" was reprinted with permission from Lawrence Stifler. This is a photograph of myself and the artwork that I chose to write about. I saw this piece in a show at the Block Gallery in Evanston Illinois. This is the paper I wrote on this subject.
Strike Through the Mask
"Strike Through the Mask" is a lithograph in the "Passion of Ahab" series by Benton Spruance. This lithograph struck me as very truthful of Ahab. After seeing the real lithograph in Evanston, the message became even clearer.
When I look at this piece I see Ahab, Moby Dick, and the doubloon. I also see how Moby Dick is in front of Ahab. Moby Dick is all Ahab sees. He is the driving force behind Ahab. Ahab keeps going to vengeance on Moby Dick. This relates to Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick. In the novel it is obvious that Ahab was determined to kill Moby Dick before the Pequod even set sail. Ahab had a special crew sneak on board the ship. They hid until the whale was spotted.
The doubloon serves as a reminder of the great white whale. In the novel Ahab offers the doubloon to whomever sees the whale first before it is killed. To every man the doubloon means something different, but to Ahab it means Moby Dick. This is the reason it is appropriate for the doubloon to be on the lithograph. It is a constant reminder of the inner struggle of Ahab. I believe that the more Ahab sees the doubloon the more it infuriated him. The longer the doubloon is on the mast, the longer Moby Dick is alive, and the longer Ahab's inner struggle goes on.
Also in this lithograph Ahab's hands are clenched. This is another sign that Ahab is obsessed. Ahab is staring straight ahead and seeing the whale. The reminding doubloon is at his side and his hands are clenched. This gives off a very powerful emotion. Ahab's rage for Moby Dick is overtaking him. It also appears that Ahab has an intense look on his face. Ahab looks to be at the point just before losing control. He is losing his inner struggle.
I already mentioned that the whale is in front of Ahab. It is almost like it is on top of him. This can be related to Moby Dick always coming out better than Ahab. Moby Dick has his battle scars with harpoons sticking out of his side, but Ahab has lost his leg. At the end of the novel Moby Dick initiates Ahab's death. This is what I see in the lithograph and how I feel it relates to the novel. Benton Spruance views Ahab as someone different.
Benton Spruance produced twenty-seven designs for the" Passion of Ahab" series. According to Elizabeth Schultz, "In 1965 Spruance started work on his series, which he titled 'The Passion of Ahab' and which was based on his own passion for the novel" (195). Spruance died during the final stages of printing of these lithographs."Spruance's 'Passion of Ahab' calls attention to humankind's anguished struggle against impossible odds--social, natural, supernatural" (Schultz, 195). Spruance believed that "Ahab is Prometheus chained to his rock, a Christ nailed to his cross, a monomaniacal seeker of death by his own intransigent challenge to a God (or Gods) of vengeance" (Abernathy, 125). Spruance saw Ahab as a "Promethean rebel, justified in and ennobled by his resistance against forces of evil and indifference"(Schultz,195). "despite the specificity his lithographs acquire through their titles and their association with particular passages from moby-dick, their movement toward abstraction, in conjunction with the lithographic process itself and the layering of colors, reinforces ahab's contention that 'all visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks'" (Schultz, 196).
"Strike Through the Mask" epitomizes Spruance's interpretation of humanity. Ahab is isolated and anguished. Spruance's Ahab is rebellious and potentially heroic, but the circumstances are overwhelming and limiting.
After learning of Benton Spruance's views on Ahab I can look at this lithograph differently. I can now see the torment of Ahab. I can see his inner struggle. I understand the rebellious way of Ahab that Spruance saw. Ahab was a man who rebelled against God. For his rebellion he lost his life. The circumstances have changed Ahab's love of God to hatred and defiance.
Abernathy, Lloyd M., Benton Spruance: The Artist and the Man. Philadelphia, Art Alliance Press, 1988.
Schultz, Elizabeth A., Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth Century American Art. University of Kansas, 1995.
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