John Threlfall, Campus life, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria
March 23, 2015
Department of Visual Arts professor and nationally renowned painter Sandra Meigs was named one of only eight winners in the annual Governor General’s Awards for Visual and Media Arts on March 24.
“It’s such an honour to be recognized in this capacity for my career as an artist,” says Meigs. “You get benchmarks of recognition as you go along … but this is something very ceremonial, very special.”
Highly regarded for her expressive interdisciplinary artworks, Meigs has led a distinguished 35-year contemporary art career with over 40 solo and 60 group exhibitions in Canada’s most culturally relevant institutions. “You can call it a lifetime achievement award, but in a way I see it as the beginning of a new lifetime,” says Meigs. “Some artists make brilliant work in their last 20 years, so for me it’s less lifetime achievement and more career achievement.”
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1953, Meigs has lived in Canada since 1973. She earned her BFA at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and an MA in Philosophy at Dalhousie University in 1980. A member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Artists who also represented Canada in the Fifth Biennale of Sydney, Meigs has been a professor with Visual Arts since 1993 and served as departmental chairfrom 1997 to 2002.
“We have some of the top contemporary artists in the country here and we have very high standards for all our sessional instructors,” she says of the department’s dynamic learning environment. “We focus so intensely on studio practice for the students—we look at everything very carefully, and talk about it in a constructive but critical way, how it’s related to current art context and theoretical ideas of contemporary art. It’s all very exciting. That’s the great strength of UVic’s Visual Arts program—walk through any of the studios and you’ll feel it.”
Meigs also feels that living and working in Victoria is one of the factors that set her art apart. “There’s not a huge contemporary art community here, and I like the sense of delight or freedom that gives me in my studio,” she says. “I just take what I do here and show it in Toronto and people always say, ‘Oh, that’s so fresh!’”
Meigs is only the second UVic scholar to be awarded a Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts, alongside sculptor and now-Professor Emeritus Mowry Baden in 2006. “This award represents ours country’s highest honour in our profession, and publicly recognizes a lifetime of achievement and contribution to this field of research,” says Paul Walde, Chair of the Department of Visual Arts.
With 18 catalogue essays and over 60 articles and reviews, Meigs’ artistic output has been covered in influential journals such as Artforum, Canadian Art, Border Crossings, The Globe & Mail, C Magazine, Parachute and the National Post. Her most recent major local exhibition was The Basement Panoramas at downtown’s Open Space gallery.
“Just when you think you have a handle on how Sandra will next explore psychological or physical space, her passion and focus changes shape and direction,” notes Dr. Lynne Van Luven, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. “The University of Victoria is fortunate to have an artist of such strong national and international reputation on its faculty.”
Meigs will be presented with a $25,000 cash prize and unique commemorative medallion by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on April 8 and will also participate in a special curated exhibit of 2015 winners at the National Gallery of Canada, running April 9 to August 30.
The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts were created in 1999 by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Governor General of Canada. The awards celebrate Canada’s vibrant arts community and recognize remarkable careers in the visual and media arts.