December 3, 2022

What is comprised of 552 illustrations, no artistic limitations and one man’s obsession with a whale of a tale? Matt Kish’s art book “Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page.”
The collective work, which got Kish onto his current path as an illustrator, was the massively ambitious task of creating an image for each page of Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby-Dick.”
Kish started the project in 2009, and strove to create one picture a day for 552 days (the number of pages in his edition of choice). While initially a personal project, Kish’s quest gained interest when he posted his images to a blog in order to share them with friends and family, and before he knew it, Kish had a deal for his illustrations to be published upon the works’ completion.
The idea to draw a picture for every page of a beloved novel did not come out of the blue. A friend reminded Kish of his passion for Melville and “Moby-Dick.” He also was aware of artist Zak Smith’s illustrations of every page of Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and was inspired to do something similar.
The creation of each of his illustrations seems to rely on the artist’s ability to make the most of the time he has after he gets home from his full-time job as a librarian.
In a recent interview, Kish said, “If all goes well, I spend that work-day not goofing around too much by thinking about art, but just letting it sort of marinate in my head; and then I get home and I eat dinner, and I usually go to the studio and I work right away for several hours.”
When he’s being really productive, Kish says that the long nights are worth it and “it doesn’t feel like work.”
That being said, Kish’s illustrations may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In accordance with the self-taught nature of his art, Kish’s images often resemble naïve art, art that is more abstract and may appeal to the emotions. Throughout the collection of images is a strong thread of primary colors that help create bold and graphic imagery.
In the forward of the art book, Kish said, “All of the whalers and sailors became abstract, metal, ship-like constructs, while the harpooners were pure predators of flesh and blood. The whales were monsters, each and every one of them.”
Kish did not just draw and paint, but layered his images over found paper to add to the complexity of his representations, as well as using photography collage and just about any artistic tools he had at his disposal.
In addition to his illustrations for “Moby-Dick,” Kish also illustrated Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss’ “The Desert Places” and Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities.” Examples of Kish’s works can be found online on his personal website: spudd64.com.
Kish also has a show lined up at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati next year from April through August that will feature new work. This time, his project is focusing on the brief introductory section of “Moby-Dick,” which consists of 80 excerpts of works such as the Bible, poetry and Shakespeare, all of which mention a whale or whales. Kish will integrate the text with his images by illustrating each excerpt to give the pictures greater emphasis.

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