Victoria artist Sandra Meigs is not afraid to let her inside out. The prolific artist, whose overall body of work defies description – her works include sculpture, clothing, painting and robots – was recently awarded a 2015 Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts.
Born in Baltimore, Meigs attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and has her Master of Arts in Philosophy from Dalhousie University.
“I was a very introverted child and I didn’t have a lot of social skills,” says Meigs. “My sister was 17 years my elder and went to art school. My parents had her self portrait over the fireplace and I thought that was so exotic – she was my inspiration.”
Meigs found solace from a dysfunctional family which included “an alcoholic father and a mother who didn’t know what to do with all of that” in drawing and began to attend art classes at a very young age.
“I took a class in drawing nude figures. It felt a bit out of place as a youngster with adults but I just fell into it and loved it,” she says.
Her love of the people and the landscape led her to stay and pursue her artistic dreams on Canadian soil. After a 10-year stint in Ontario, she came to Vancouver Island and began her association with the University of Victoria where she is now a professor with the University’s Department of Visual Arts.
“I didn’t aspire to be a teacher,” she says. “With art, you don’t make a ton of money to do it. (Teaching) was a great way to support myself.
“It gives me energy to be surrounded by young people who continue to bring new ideas into the world,” she adds.
Meigs describes her work as the examination of the relationship between the inner mind and the outer world. Her Basement Panoramas, is a series of large murals. “It’s based on my personal experience after a year of grieving after my husband passed away.” She says her work over the years encompasses her inner experiences with a bit of narrative. “Often there’s a comic side to it,” she says. “I usually try to put some figure into my paintings. I jump around with scale. I like small scale that’s intimate. The next (piece) might be very large, I like the way it’s so absorbing. I always like to be fresh, always new. If you follow 20 years, one piece leads to another.”
Meigs was nominated for the award by Open Space Executive Director Helen Marzolf.
“Sandra has made an extensive contribution to Canadian art and she nicely completed a major body of work last year that was presented at Open Space, Basement Panoramas,” says Marzolf. “From my perspective, people across the country recognize her work. She’s an artist with superior confidence and makes ordinary things seem extraordinary.”
Meigs was presented with a $25,000 cash prize and 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. Some of her work will also be featured in a special exhibit of 2015 winners at the National Gallery of Canada, to Aug. 30.
“Oh my God, I was overwhelmed,” says Meigs of the experience. “It was such an amazing gift and honour, I was very surprised. Of course, you know you’re nominated because you have to sign the forms, but to be chosen was a very moving, very emotional feeling for me. It’s significant career recognition. It’s different than an exhibition because it’s being recognized for your ongoing work. I was very struck by the whole thing, it was amazing.”