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 Matt’s story was so interesting that I found myself listening instead of shooting.
Matt 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 Matt, and he decided to make it the linchpin of his final art project. He decided to make one drawing a day for 552 days, with each drawing inspired by one of the 552 pages in Moby-Dick.
Matt posted each drawing online. They began to attract viewers, then speaking engagements, then an agent, and finally a publisher. Far from being Matt’s final project, the Moby-Dick drawings seem like they might be a beginning to a successful art career.
When I visited Matt’s home, I asked about the art decorating his dining room.
“I don’t have a lot of my work up. After a while I find myself thinking about how I could have improved on the work – what I could have done better.
“This art is all by Shawn Cheng, an artist in New York. I met him when he came to Columbus to exhibit at S.P.A.C.E. (Small Press Alternative Comics Expo). I love Shawn’s work. Fortunately, he likes my work, so I traded for these pieces.”
I noticed Matt’s Moby-Dick book on the shelf. To the left is a Korean translation of the book. A Japanese translation is in the works.
After the success of Moby-Dick, Matt’s publisher asked for another book. You can see it here – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad illustrated by Matt Kish.
I mentioned to Matt that 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.
I noticed that Amazon’s author page did not have a photo of Matt, so I took one he could send to them.
Matt uses a converted bedroom as his studio. It includes a TV set.
“Sometimes I take a break and play games on the TV. Some nights my wife watches TV in here while I work. I like the company.”
“This table top was clean when I started the Moby-Dick project. I don’t think I will clean it. When I look at some of these colors I remember my images of specific scenes in the book.”
I asked Matt if he would show me the Moby- Dick book.
These are the illustrations from pages 232 and 233. Next to each illustration are the specific words that inspired the drawing. For example, the drawing on the left was inspired by the following passage from page 232:
And as for pirates, when they chance to cross each other’s cross-bones, the first hail is – “How many skulls?”
Matt also showed me some pages from his second book, Heart of Darkness. Here the entire text of the book has been included, with one of Matt’s illustrations for each page of text.
When I visited, Matt was working on drawings for a show at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. For that show, Matt 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 Matt’s new drawings relate to that section of the book.
The Extracts consist of 80 brief references to whales – from the Bible, from Shakespeare, from memoirs and many other sources. For each of these 80 references, Matt is creating one drawing to be exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Center.
“During the day I am a librarian at the Dayton Metro Library, 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 1960’s 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”
“I will use a lot of red on this drawing. It is inspired by an extract is about the whaleship Globe, which had a mutiny. The quote is from Samuel Comstock, one of the mutineers:
“If you make the least damn bit of noise I will send you to hell.”