This drawing collage, Soft Voices Never Die, examines the imperfections in this ancient statue of Nike, the goddess of victory. While she is nearly perfect, from the folds of her clothes to the tips of her feathers, we cannot avoid noticing that she is missing her arms and head. She also has a reconstructed wing. Somehow, it seems easy to look past her faults and defects to see only the beauty of the sculpted form. Truth in beauty goes beyond what meets the eye or as the well known saying goes, beauty is only skin deep.
Greek art, known for striving to portray ideal beauty, is often exquisite in display of that physical loveliness. However time and history has taken its toll on many works leaving them broken and abused. A statue with a missing arm or leg can be just as attractive with missing appendages or made even more beautiful because of its blemishes. Cracks and disfigurements on an otherwise sublime sculpture are often the last thing viewers notice about the art. The authenticity of the flaws add to the character and chronicle of these art objects.
While commonly thought to be the goddess of military battles, Nike was actually the goddess that ancient Greeks from all walks of life called upon when facing a struggle. She was the goddess of personal victory and not of triumph in war or battle. She was also typically associated with speed and strength. In fact, her Roman equivalent is named Victoria. It is also believed that Nike acted as a mediator between the gods and men.
The name Nike originated from the Greek word “neikos”, meaning strife or struggle. It was common for ordinary people to place an image of Nike on their own personal alters. Nike was a symbol for victory in all maters of life, not just in war. While many Roman copies of major Hellenistic sculptures remain, very few originals survived. According to some historians the Nike of Samothrace is “the greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture”.
I imagine the figure in my drawing, singing in an ageless way. I love thinking about the history that this statue has had. Prior to being rediscovered in 1863, the Nike of Samothrace’s record leaves much to be guessed. Often referred to as the Winged Victory, she was created sometime in the second century BC., probably to commemorate a naval battle. She occupied a niche above a theater in the Samothrace Temple Complex and now is on view in the Louvre in Paris.
My piece takes a contemporary approach and collages together magazine clippings, tempera paint and charcoal. Bits of torn paper from an art history book are painstakingly incorporated into the drawing with visible words describing ancient art. White tempera paint is layered to push back certain portions of the drawing and highlighting others. Traditional charcoal adds a full range of values from dark to light as well as completing the lines and shading of the statue’s personification.
In response to a Drawing Challenge by the Jason McCoy Gallery, New York, I set about exploring charcoal. The gallery gave artists the following quote from American jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) and invited them to submit art related to that theme: “When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!” Soft Voices Never Die was was selected for the Jason McCoy Drawing Challenge XX exhibit All the Notes are There Already.
As I created this work, not only I was exploring beauty in imperfection but also the theme of music, sound and how to make notes come alive on a quiet, motionless piece of paper. The notion of “picking the notes you really mean” is a powerful metaphor, not only for art but also in general. It reminds me that life is finite and we must select what we do with our time wisely. However, if we do choose our notes carefully perhaps we can leave behind something meaningful, much in the same way that the ancient Nike statue lives on to inspire and fascinate generation after generation.
See more art in this series here.