LEVIATHAN or The Whale by Philip Hoare


This book was a present from my brother and has been the inspiration for Kingdom,the series of drawings that I have been working on for the last year and continue to work on for an exhibition in Iceland this summer.

Hoare’s Leviathan seemed to do with words what I wanted to do with images, and so it was that I was tipped headlong into the world of Whales. This passage has particularly resonance for me:

The Arctic whales- bowheads, beluga and narwhals- are the most tantalizing of all cetaceans. rising and falling with the changing seasons of ice, they are barometers of an invisible world, spectrally floating within their bounded sea, locked into it’s cycle. They are philopatrous animals, loyal to the site of their birth, and the only whales to live in the Arctic throughout the year. One hundred thousand belugas swim in polar seas; the geographical remoteness of the less populous bowheads and their outriders the narwhals, is such that they are seldom seen.

Belugas are born grey and only achieve pure white in late adulthood…..their articulated necks allow them to change the shape of their heads, holding them at right angles and lending them a quizzical, human expression. Sailors called them the canaries of the sea on account of their songs.

The narwhal, too, shares the beluga’s sad beauty, a mortality suggested by it’s name- from old Norse, nar and hvalr, meaning ‘corpse whale’, because it’s smudges resemble the livid blemishes on a dead body…The narwhal’s tusk is actually an overgrown tooth which erupts to pierce it’s owner’s lip on the left hand side and spirals up to nine feet long… but for centuries it was identified as the horn of a unicorn, invested with magical powers.

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