Whale, what do you know

Artist Matt Kish’s “Moby Dick” inspired project takes off

By Bill Franz

I first met Matt Kish when he was being interviewed on The Art Show, a program on Dayton’s public television station. I was there to take behind-the-scenes photos, but Kish’s story was so interesting that I found myself listening instead of shooting.

Kish had been making art for years, with little commercial success or recognition. He finally decided he would quit making art, but only after completing one last project. “Moby-Dick” had always been important to Kish, and he decided to make it the linchpin of his final art project. He started making one drawing a day for 552 days, with each drawing inspired by one of the 552 pages in “Moby-Dick.”

He posted each drawing online. They began to attract viewers, then speaking engagements, then an agent and finally a publisher. Far from being Kish’s final project, the “Moby-Dick” drawings seem like they might be a beginning to a successful art career.

When I visited Kish’s home studio in Beavercreek, I noticed two versions of his “Moby-Dick in Pictures” on the shelf, one in English and one in Korean. A Japanese translation is in the works.

Before visiting, I read some of the comments about his book on Amazon. One person said he loved the book and planned to buy a second copy. That way he could disassemble one book and frame his favorite drawings.

Kish is now working on drawings for an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati opening Friday, April 22 and running through Sunday, August 14. Admission to the museum is free. For that show, Kish is making 105 more drawings related to “Moby-Dick.”

At the beginning of “Moby-Dick,” Melville has a brief section called “Extracts (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian).” Most of Kish’s new drawings relate to that section of the book. The Extracts consist of 80 brief references to whales—from the Bible, to Shakespeare, to memoirs and many other sources. For each of these 80 references, Kish is creating one drawing to be exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Center.

“During the day I am a librarian at the Dayton Metro Library,” Kish says, “so these are drawings made by a librarian inspired by whale references compiled by Melville writing as a Sub-Sub-Librarian.

“These drawings, like all of my drawings in the ‘Moby-Dick’ book, are painted on found paper.  Most are technical illustrations from 1960s era electric equipment. One of my readers said something I hadn’t consciously considered. I was making drawings about a nearly extinct industry [whaling] on paper related to nearly extinct types of equipment.”

For more information, please visit spudd64.com.

Bill Franz retired from a business career and became a volunteer photographer doing projects for many local nonprofits.  His photos of people at work have been shown in art exhibitions across Ohio and neighboring states.  Find out more at billfranz17.com/about. 

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Megan Garrison grew up in the small town of Lampasas, Texas, spending her time immersed in Ernest Hemingway novels and dreaming of being a journalist one day. Now she attends the University of Dayton and is hard at work studying to be a war-time correspondent. Though she is very goal oriented and works hard to achieve her dreams she also loves to have a little fun. She DJs her own radio show on Flyer Radio and makes it a point to attend great movies and local concerts. But her greatest love will always be books.

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