Gladys Nilsson has long been interested in observing social relations between the sexes. In this watercolor, her primary medium for the last fifty years, she depicts a battle of the sexes—part human comedy, part myth—with confident big-bosomed warrior-goddesses in Victorian-styled footwear taking on and overcoming zoomorphic male figures. The irreverent visual pun on the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena Nike (“Nike” means Victory), and the 19th century British monarch Queen Victoria is probably intentional. (See also Smart Museum 2008.46, probably executed around the same time.) Her sophisticated blend of humor and impeccable technique calls to mind the work of Jim Nutt, although their graphic styles and media preferences differ significantly.
Nilsson participated in the Hairy Who exhibitions held at the Hyde Park Art Center on the South Side of Chicago (1966‒1968), alongside other Chicago Imagists James Falconer, Art Green, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum, who formed for the purpose of exhibiting art in a city with limited opportunities for emerging artists. Contrary to the subject matter of this drawing, the atypical ethos of Hairy Who was one of equal opportunity among artists to exhibit their work based on its intrinsic merits, regardless of gender.