The Newborn

12 paintings, oil on panel, lights, card texts, wall treatment

Boat Basin Farm, a remote spot on the west cost of Vancouver Island, sits in splendid isolation at the head of Hesquiat Harbour in Clayoquot Sound. It is a noteworthy place because of Ada Annie Rae-Arthur. The woman now legendary as Cougar Annie was a hunter who by her own count killed seventy-two of these fierce cats….It was in Cougar Annie’s garden that Meigs conceived The Newborn. In this strangely beautiful, storied landscape, the artist recognized a mirror of the psyche and classical elements of the setting of a fairy tale. Taking the role of a storyteller, she envisioned the paintings that comprise the installation as scenes from a fairy tale. It begins, in medias res, as dreams do with a child lost in a dark wood. The girls meets with fears, temptations and adventures, finds herself in an enchanted place, and, before the tale ends, again as if in midstream, she experiences a transformation. These plot developments are characteristic of this ancient narrative form, as are the little girl’s adventures, the fearsome robbers, and the helpful magical animals, which here are talking birds and a flying bear. However, the telling of the tale, and thus the tale itself, is unique.

The dream-like space of The Newborn reveals itself in layers. The walls are brown and stained by ghostly rectangles. On top of them floats a series of twelve sparkling paintings, small and square and fitted not only with yellow picture lamps but also with tiny internal lights and sunny yellow frames. It is as though the paintings occupy the site of an earlier exhibition of larger pictures: art-historical ancestors, perhaps scenes from mythology or folklore, the antecedents of the fairy tale. Attached to the side of each painting is a yellow card bearing a text, each a fragment of The Newborn story.

…If The Newborn texts can be read as dream-content, however, the dream-thoughts arise unfettered in the libidinal images of the paintings, for Meigs banishes the censoring ego to produce glowing images of female desire….

…Mystical and pure red, the glistening, advancing spheres of “The Cherries,” symbols of the maidenhead, recall the spiritual abstraction of early modernism. Their appearance in The Newborn’s imagery heralds a shift from latent to burgeoning desire. The two stages suggest an allegory of the Self, set in motion by comparisons between the opposite images in each half of the series. Number One, “The Ancient Tree Trunk,” offers the girl a return to the womb as sanctuary, while Number Seven, “The Cherries,” embodies female desire as a vital spiritual force….Finally, comes “The Longing.” In the text, in which the girl shrinks to the size of a pea and falls into deep sleep, Meigs defers transcendence. Yet she embodies it in the painting. In this dream-within-a-dream, desire becomes a powerful creative female energy that hovers in the air of a garden: a space of pure imagination, with a window open to the cosmos.
— Nancy Tousley, "Reverie: Swoon and The Newborn," Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2002