The Basement Panoramas

4 panorama paintings, acrylic on canvas, and painted platform with 6 painted kinetic figures

About The Basement Panoramas

When Sandra Meigs met me at her Open Space exhibition of murals and accompanying installation work, “The Basement Panoramas,” and we “walked” the paintings, I twice thought she said “grieving” when she was actually saying “breathing.” It was an interesting mistake to reflect upon, as the slippage between “grieving” and “breathing” reflects the continuity of the exhibition’s narrative — namely, from death to continuing life. The works are rooted in an immediate personal history: in January 2011, Meigs, who had recently married and purchased a home, lost her husband to cancer; during their final months together, she started to relate the crawlspace and bedrock of the 90-year-old house to mortality, a space removed from the traffic of waking life, yet, in the artist’s words, “containing time.”

The first of the murals, Red. 3011 Jackson. (Mortality), named for the address of the house, relates this evocative reckoning to the networks layering the crawlspace: ducts, wires, cables and fuses, redundant or functional, vestigial or retrofitted, surrounding and commuting the vortex-like swirls of the stony floor. The 25-foot-long mural was composed of photos of the crawlspace taped together to form a panoramic view, from which a schematic rendering was derived for projection. The drawing’s contours look liberated in the radiant layers, supplying a bloodied lushness offset by Meigs’s neat parsing of constituents: a fuse box is “portal electrical,” an old five-panel door, the “door of mortal birth” and protruding bedrock a Wagnerian “universal realm.” The invocation of colour as transforming wavelength recalls Matisse’s iconic Red Studio (1911): a body-temperature continuum of fluidity and atmosphere, the objects within it (especially artworks) limned with light as if radiating significance. Meigs’s basement is a metacognitive space, a set of generative coordinates in which — as in Matisse’s clock face without hands — the explicit depiction of action (past-present-future) is withheld….

Nearby are The Bones in the Golden Robes, a series of shrouded robot figures lined up along a catwalk-like platform. Concentric bands of yellow and white on platform and shroud heraldically unite the tableau with Insomnia. Five robots stand immobile as a sixth roves over the platform with juddering perambulations, causing clappers beneath its canopy to clack like weathered wind chimes (a contribution aided by the input of Victoria composer Christopher Butterfield.) The ghost-like shrouds are both blind and anonymous, their hunched forms, and lap-like projections, pantomiming an awkward attendant carrying a tray or mendicant begging for alms; they are contingent figures. Reminiscent of both patient and nurse, they evoke a division of artists’ roles, between exemplary sufferer and therapeutic mediator, a split recalling Jasper Johns’ contrary categories of “watchman” and “spy.” Oblivious to the viewer in their queue and clatter, they cast the rattle of bones into the meditative reverie of the murals, like branches tapping at a window.
— John Luna, "Sandra Meigs: At the Bottom of Everything," Canadian Art, November 20, 2013,