Visual Arts professor honoured with prestigious Governor General’s Award / by Susan Hobbs

 Sandra Meigs. Photo by Michelle Alger

Sandra Meigs. Photo by Michelle Alger

Department of Visual Arts professor and nationally renowned painter Sandra Meigs has been named one of only eight winners in the annual Governor General’s Awards for Visual and Media Arts by the Canada Council for the Arts.

“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—a big review in the Globe and Mail, a major Canada Council grant—but this is something very ceremonial, very special. I feel totally thrilled.”

Highly regarded for her expressive, eclectic and interdisciplinary contemporary artworks, Sandra Meigs is best known for large-scale works like The Basement Panoramas and Strange Loop. Primarily working in the mediums of acrylic and oil, she has led a distinguished 35-year career with over 40 solo and 60 group exhibitions in Canada’s most culturally relevant institutions. Her work has been collected by the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Banff Centre, the Canada Council Art Bank and the Musée d’art contemporain. She is currently represented by the Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto.

“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.”

Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts Simon Brault praises the 2015 recipients. “This year’s winners are profoundly shaping Canada’s cultural identity. We applaud their innovative and powerful work, which invites us to question the state of our world and our own personal destinies in ways that we never would have imagined.”

Click here to watch a short video about Sandra Meigs’ creative practice (Directed by Ryan Mah and Danny Berish for the Canada Council, it will play at film festivals across Canada throughout the year and will be seen on Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment system starting in May 2015.)

Open Space will be honouring Meigs with a reception from 5 to 8pm Wednesday, March 25, at 510 Fort Street. All are welcome.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1953, Meigs has lived in Canada since 1973. She left the Rhode Island School of Art to study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where she earned her BFA. NSCAD had just become internationally acclaimed as a place of critical stimulation and theoretical discourse, where the methodologies of contemporary art were in the process of being reinvented; the spirit of this rambunctious art school became an essential part of Meigs’ thinking, and contributed to her MA in Philosophy at Dalhousie University in 1980. A former Chair of UVic’s Department of Visual Arts (1997-2002), she continues to bring that critical eye to her classes.

“We have some of the top contemporary artists in the country here and we have very high standards for all our sessional instructors, who are all very good,” she explains about the dynamic learning environment upon which the Visual Arts department is built. “We focus so intensely on studio practice for the students versus doing a lot of theoretical lecturing
. . . 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 hard for the general public to get that, because you don’t get that unless you’re here, but 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.”

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 feels that working in Victoria is one of the factors that set her work 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 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. She has taught painting, sculpture and foundation courses at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, Toronto’s York University and the Ontario College of Art, and the University of Toronto, Scarborough. She has also been a mentor for generations of artists, among them UVic alumni Patrick HowlettAlthea Thauberger and Marianne Nicolson—all of whom have work in major public collections. Former student Kim Adams also won the Governor General’s Award for Sculpture in 2014.

“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. “Throughout her career at UVic, Sandra has continued to distinguish herself and the Department through her outstanding work as an artist and professor.”

With 18 catalogue essays and over 60 articles and reviews, Meigs’ artistic output has been covered in influential journals such as ArtforumCanadian ArtBorder CrossingsThe Globe & MailC MagazineParachute and the National Post. She has been awarded major grants, is a sought-after member of peer assessment committees, and has advised boards of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, CARFAC and the Canada Council For the Arts. In addition to her studio practice, Meigs writes, researches and occasionally curates. 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.”

Award nominator Helen Marzolf, Executive Director of Open Space, has long admired Meigs’ work. “With each successive series she surprises, jolts, and transforms how we think about the world. I have always been in awe of her confidence and audacity,” says Marzolf. “Her brilliant philosophical paintings always breathe vernacular air—anyone, no matter what his or her background, is susceptible to them. How fitting, and how exciting, for her to win the GG in Visual and Media Arts. Aren’t we lucky to have Sandra Meigs in our community?”

In response to her exhibit The Newborn in 2001, noted Toronto art writer John Bentley Mays expressed his ongoing astonishment at Meigs’ ability: “There is art and duty and sorrow and surprises and, always, the unceasing wonder—in everything, in fact, catalogued in this remarkable and intelligent installation. Ms. Meigs is a painter who thinks critically about everything—painting and thinking included.”

As Open Space’s Marzolf wrote in her nomination package, “Meigs’ artistic process resolutely follows the barest whiff of imaginative speculation into uncharted intimacies. Meigs wills us into spaces of profound, mischievous curiosity from which there is no escape. Her agnostic, non-transcendent politics offers a quantum expansion of the psychogeographies of Canadian identity.”

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.

This year’s other Visual and Media Arts Award winners include Louise DéryRobert HouleMicah LexierRafael Lozano-HemmerPaul McClureRober Racine and Reva Stone.

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.