April 18 2016 – VQR: A National Journal of Literature & Discussion

Hugh Locke story

Boats in Manhattan’s Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art gallery.

Nave (as in a church) has as its root the Medieval Latin word for ship, “navis.” The etymology cues a tradition dating back to at least the fifteenth century: Survivors of shipwrecks and captains prosperous at sea would donate miniature models of boats to churches. Hung from the eaves of European—particularly Scandinavian—cathedrals, these votive boats were a form of thanks but also prayer. They’ve inspired art before, Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio’s “The Apparition of the Ten Thousand Martyrs,” for one. British artist Hew Locke didn’t know of the boats until encountering them in a Portuguese fisherman’s chapel in 2009. Ships had long been in his visual vocabulary, but in that sacred setting he saw them anew: In constellation, in the context of journeys so difficult they require either pleas or gratitude to the gods.

That lens illuminates his work, most recently with the flotilla of thirty-five boats that hang from the ceiling at Manhattan’s Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art gallery. Cruise ships, gold-filigreed galleons, a Coast Guard boat, a dugout canoe, and sailboats all careen together in suspended motion, in an installation consecrated to refugees from Syria and Iraq. Locke christened it “The Wine Dark Sea” in homage to Homer’s “Odyssey” but also to Derek Walcott’s epic poem “Omeros,” which recasts the ancient Greek tale in the Antilles. The title “bends together two seas,” Locke tells me—the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, both scenes of precarious migrant crossings.  [Read more]