The Dutchman


I recently paid a quick visit to my alma mater while on the way to a conference. I hadn’t been back in many years, and I spent the whole of my 1.5-hour whirlwind tour with a grin on my face. Although I’ve heard that the southern part of campus has changed a lot, the northern part, where the buildings that held most of my classes are located, seemed like it hadn’t changed a bit. I was sporting a backpack and so felt like a kid again as I walked the campus just like old times, ducking into the English building and the bookstore, stopping by the little art gallery in the student union, and heading into one of the libraries for a quick peek just before closing time.

I lingered the longest (still only a brief 20 or 30 minutes) at the Ackland Art Museum, where I saw the painting pictured above (entitled “The Dutchman”). It’s really dazzling, almost like a quilt done in paint, and done in such a way that you see new things in the intersections of the various shapes each time you look. It’s a really great piece by an artist named Moyo Okediji, whom you can read more about here if you’re interested.

Moby-Dick art by Matt Kish


A couple of years ago, I led an online group read of one of my favorite books, Moby-Dick. As part of that read, I ran across artist Matt Kish’s project to illustrate every page of his edition of the book. Matt was kind enough to contribute a few posts to the reading blog and has been a great guy to get to know a little ever since. I’ve been building up a small collection of his art, starting with the Fin back whale, which I got not in the form of an original piece of art or even a framed print but in the form of a tattoo.  I love my tattoo, but as it had to be simplified to be translated into ink on flesh, it doesn’t begin to compare to the intricacy of design or the richness of color of the original.

The first original (scan and citation here) I picked up was the one pictured at top right above. It actually didn’t make  the final cut as an illustration for the project (and book), so I was able to get my hands on it before the drawing project had wrapped up.

Once I had gotten the tattoo, Matt kindly earmarked the Fin back for me in the event that it was ever eligible for sale, and when he was ready to let it go, I snapped it up. Although it is in a way my most treasured piece, it also has the most humble framing — a cheapo black frame that sandwiches the art between two pieces of glass. I sprang for the gallery glass to fend off glare and protect the piece from harsh light, but I really didn’t want to mess up the back of the art, for two reasons. First, although you can’t really tell from the picture, it’s drawn — as are most of the pieces in the project — on found paper, in this case an old TV repair manual with diagrams. On the back are pictured a couple of vintage television sets, and I hated to lose the back of the piece by mounting it. There’s also an inscription that I didn’t want to lose access to.

My wife got the one pictured at lower right (scan and citation) for me for Christmas this year, and I love the depth of the piece, and all that blue, and how the lines linking part numbers to their corresponding elements in an assembly or part diagram work so well with the image of a squid (all those arms) bobbing on the sea.

Next came the bottom left (scan and citation). The project had been over for a while and Matt was trying to clear the decks, so to speak, so that he could move on to the next project without any of the baggage of the Moby-Dick project weighing him down. I loved the angry red in this one, the texture of the waves, that lightning-strike/scar that imparts to Ahab an external representation of the fractured mentality that dooms him and his crew. This one also happens to be drawn on a page from Moby-Dick about Ahab, and I like the layering of that choice.

And most recently, following pretty shortly after the Ahab image, I got the bottom middle one, a picture of good old Queequeg decked out in a shirt and big socks, carrying a nasty looking hook to be used in the process of turning a dead whale into salable product. Not really evident in the photo above (but clear enough in the scan) is Queequeg’s mark, or signature, which Matt rendered as a “Q” and lemniscate (that’s the three-dollar word for “infinity sign”).

I’m not on the whole a terribly materialistic person, but this little collection — which I’ve finally just gotten hung up as a collection after getting the last two back from the frame shop today — is my prized possession, the thing I’ll go back into the fire for once my kids are safe and sound.

The Technology Cooperative

I worked yesterday from The Technology Cooperative here in Knoxville. A friend and one-time coworker is a founding member of the cooperative, and I was curious to see what it was about. I’ve worked from home for well over six years now and am generally pretty happy not to have to deal with the distractions and other baggage of working in a room with other people, but occasionally I read accounts by others I work with of their good experiences with coworking, so I’m occasionally tempted to try it out. Yesterday, I did. Sort of.

The office is a small slice of a building on Jackson Avenue in the Old City, just down the street from Barley’s. I parked in a lot by the Gay St. Bridge and walked over. After a quick tour, my friend Mike and I walked down to Market Square for lunch at Trio’s, where I ate a salad as big as my thorax. We talked shop there and then came back to the office and worked and chatted. It was pretty fun, and I can see the appeal of doing this from time to time, but for me, working with somebody turns out to be a productivity killer. This was probably made worse in this case because Mike and I catch up only every so often, so there was lots to gab about.

I very much liked being downtown, an area I’ve frequented very few times in my dozen years living in Knoxville but that has a lot of appeal to me for various reasons. Of course, I also like living out in the country where I can have a garden and a  rain barrel and let my dog out in the back yard, but I could definitely see myself signing up as a member of TechCo if I lived closer to downtown. As it’s a 20+ minute drive for me to get there and I’d have to wear pants every day and lose productivity, I don’t see myself making a terribly regular habit of working from TechCo, but I like that the place exists now, and I have a little bit of an urge (though maybe not the gumption) to get involved here and there with the group behind it. (Mike, don’t hold me to that.)

I didn’t get any pictures of the inside of the office (visit the site for those), but I couldn’t keep myself from snapping a few pictures of things in a common area within the building.

The building apparently used to be a factory or shipping plant of some sort. Workers would send boxes down this spiral chute to trucks waiting below.

This is one of several large paintings in the common area of the building inhabits. It's easily six or eight feet on a side.

Here's another painting in the space, also large and very striking.

A neat metal sculpture. Note how it looks like it has feet.

Fin Back

Last year, I led an online group read of Moby-Dick. While doing so, I happened across the art of Matt Kish, with whom I’ve struck up something of a friendship since. When I met him, Matt was about midway through a project to illustrate every page of Moby-Dick. He was kind enough to contribute some articles for the group read, and in February, he finished his ambitious project, which is now being collected in an art book. I was lucky enough to be the first to purchase one of the original pieces from the project (though several other illustrations that didn’t make the final cut have also been sold, and I’ve bought one of those too).

It’s a really gorgeous piece, vibrantly colored and drawn on an old TV schematic. The drawing has hundreds of tiny precision lines and dots that aren’t nearly as impressive in the crummy phone snapshot below as they are in person.

Although there are lots of fantastic pieces in the collection, this one is of particular significance to me because I decided last June to get a tattoo adaptation of it. Naturally, I got Matt’s permission first, and he was really pleased with the outcome. I am too. (As with the original art, the photo below really doesn’t do the piece justice.)

Fin Back Tattoo

When my wife and I talked about my getting a tattoo, she had envisioned something much smaller than what I wound up with. For that matter, so had I, but it was hard to translate the stencil the tattoo artist showed me into a size relative to my back, which for understandable reasons I have only a tenuous understanding of the size and geography of. She was upset when I came home with a bandage covering the better part of my not-small upper back. I think it’s grown on her since, and although I didn’t mean to get one quite so large, I love that it’s as big as it is.

The tattoo artist had to change the sizing on a lot of elements to translate the original piece into a tattoo, and I think that by and large, he did a great job. Some of the crookedness manifest in the snapshot above is the result of my back’s contours and not of an unsteady hand on the tattoo artist’s part. I wish he had colors matching the originals a little more closely, I’ll say.

Since the moment I got the thing, I’ve wanted another (maybe even another Kish piece), but I’m told I’m disallowed from doing so, at least for a few years.

I’m glad now to have the original artwork in hand as a companion to my inked knock-off.