Like Captain Ahab, the artist Randall Enos believed he was destined to have an encounter with a great white whale.
Enos, whose expressionistic linoleum cuts have appeared in books and magazines for almost 50 years, had read stories about a real-life whale named Mocha Dick, who fought off whalers for decades before being killed by harpoon. This “hero” whale seemed to attack his human predators with a level of strategic intelligence, which during the early 19th century earned him icon status. “He fascinated me because he was so different than the average Sperm Whale,” Enos says. “So, I knew I had to make some pictures about him.”
Destiny stepped in two years ago, when Enos was commissioned to illustrate Mocha Dick: The Legend and Fury, Brian Heinz’s loose rewrite of the nonfiction account (the 1839 The Knickerbocker Magazine article, “Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific,” by Jeremiah N. Reynolds) that inspired Herman Melville’s 1851 classic novel. This contemporary retelling came about after Rita Marshall, the creative director for the children’s book publisher Creative Editions, saw a picture in Enos’s studio depicting an enraged Mocha Dick throwing helpless whalemen, whaleboats, and whaling equipment into the air. “About a year later, she phoned me and said that she couldn't get that whale picture out of her mind and asked if I'd like to work on a book about that whale,” Enos recalls.
Many Creative Editions books are revivals of lost or forgotten original versions of children’s stories. Coincidentally, Heinz had submitted a manuscript about Mocha Dick, and it needed a strong visual complement. Enos was the perfect match. He had already produced a limited hand-stitched edition with black-and-white linoleum cuts titled The Life and Death of Mocha Dick. Copies sold for $400.
When Enos agreed to expand on the Mocha Dick legend, he was promised so much creative license, it took time to realize “I can do whatever I want, I can make green hair, brown oceans, etc.” He says he felt more freedom “than I have ever felt on a job before.” And since he had been striving toward a more "abstract" quality in his work, “playing more from moment to moment and freeing my natural impulses as best I can” he took advantage of his privileged position.