A life spent painting, teaching and sharing the creative process has put Victoria’s Sandra Meigs in special company.
The 61-year-old Meigs has been named one of eight winners of the 2015 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. She is the lone winner from B.C.
“They look for people accomplished in the profession over their career,” Meigs said of the selection committee. “It’s an incredible honour, it really is, because I’ve been a professional for 40 years if you go back to my first show.”
Meigs is also a respected teacher, having spent the past 21 years with the University of Victoria’s visual-arts department.
The other winners are: Louise Déry, curator, Montreal (Outstanding Contribution Award); Robert Houle, visual artist, Toronto; Micah Lexier, visual artist, Toronto; Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, media artist, Montreal; Paul McClure, jewelry artist, Toronto (Saidye Bronfman Award); Rober Racine, visual artist, writer and composer, Montreal; Reva Stone, new media artist, Winnipeg.
“This year’s winners are profoundly shaping Canada’s cultural identity,” said Simon Brault, director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts. “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.”
The awards, given annually, are funded and administered by the council; this year is the 15th anniversary of the awards. Winners receive a $25,000 cash prize and will be honoured at a ceremony April 9 with Governor General David Johnston at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall.
Along with that, their work will be shown at the National Gallery of Canada from April 9 to Aug. 30 and each is the subject of a specially made short film. “That was my first starring role,” Meigs said with a smile. “It’s really quite beautiful, the work on my film.”
She noted that she has benefited through the years from funding grants given by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Her nomination came from Helen Marzolf of Victoria’s Open Space Gallery, where Meigs’ work has been shown.
Asked how people explain her style, Meigs said it certainly isn’t cut-and-dried — fitting, perhaps, considering her paintings can range from an average size you can hold in your hand to an expansive piece that runs the length of a wall.
“They describe me as someone who’s constantly surprising them,” Meigs said. “I don’t have a formal style that I’ve stuck to all these years. I do integrate narrative content into my painting, in a way that is quite unique.”
The narrative can simply be a story on a plaque accompanying the painting, or words and phrases incorporated into the painting itself.
“The Art Gallery of Ontario has one of my works in their collection called the Newborn,” Meigs said. “It has 12 individual paintings but each painting has a verse to a story.”
Just as her style isn’t set, so it is with her choice of medium. Different types of paint are good for different things, Meigs explained.
“I shift back and forth, depending,” she said. “Oil is better for some types of forms because it dries slowly and acrylic is better for others if you want faster work.”
One constant is the huge benefits that come from spending time as an educator, Meigs said.
“I’m constantly inspired by young people. Also, my colleagues are all very dedicated and the university supports research in a really strong way.”
Her success can be seen in the sheer number of exhibitions that have featured her work across the country. There have been close to 100 in Canada, as well as others in Europe and Australia.
She is currently represented by the Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto.
Having her work distributed so widely is “amazing,” Meigs said.
“And that’s what this award kind of brings home to me: ‘Wow, I have done all that stuff.’ This makes me reflect on my career in a great way.”
The movies made of the award recipients will be shown on Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment system beginning in May, and can also be seen on the websites for the Canada Council (canadacouncil.ca) and the Independent Media Arts Alliance (imaa.ca).