Sandra Meigs’ latest exhibition is a series of eight portrait-sized paintings on panel accompanied
by a projected text. Derived from exploratory paper models folded by the artist, each panel extends
from the wall at odd angles and becomes a sculptural support for further improvisation. Small,
sheer blocks of monochromatic colour make up the features of each portrait, then each character is
animated further with various “props” or appendages made from scraps of coordinating fabric—such as
silk, wool, cotton, and linen—attached or strung onto the panels with piano wire. The placement of
these elements was directed by Meigs’ only rule that any alteration to the painting could not be
Literally, Meigs’ “slapstick formalism” relies on this intuitive method towards
abstraction, but her approach also alludes to the core elements of improvisatory theatre.
Collectively, the portraits make up a cast of stock characters—among them we can see the clown, the
starlet and the tragic muse—with names that spell out a series of seemingly nonsensical rhyming
couplets. Gotta Go’s red-stained hanky suggests an unmentionable catastrophe. Hey Yo is a young
ingénue deep in reverie. But Meigs’ “comic gestalt” belies a deeper philosophical and psychological
investigation into the nature of being.
As paintings, these portraits deviate from the conventions
of two-dimensional form, pushing the boundary of illusionistic space and breaking through the
“fourth wall” separating the viewer from what is being looked at. This theatrical device is a way
to define the act of looking as an ontological state, a key aspect of Meigs’ work. Here, as in her
other recent work, the gaze has also been reversed: it is now this troupe of clowns who watch us.