Montreal

Sandra Meigs

Galerie Chantal Boulanger

Sandra Meigs paints the social masks of popular culture, using kitsch idioms to penetrate the thin veneer of popular folklore. At first her installation of 21 paintings seems to be simply a stereotypical parody of the heroic Western novel: this moody imbroglio of laconic passion offers up a pantheon of macho cowboys and forlorn cowgirls, set amidst a high chaparral landscape littered with wagon wheels, gigantesque horses, sage brush, and campfires. It soon becomes apparent that these figures culled from the cult of the Western melodrama are homesteading on strangely psychoanalytic feminist territory. Their wild, exaggerated gestures make one think of the characters in Tom Robbins’ novel, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.

Painted in bright, pop colors with a loose brushy style, these paintings use grotesque distortions and perspectival shifts at will. Some scenes are turned on their sides and further details are added as if their specific placement were purely a formal matter, unrelated to the general narrative intention. The subject figures Meigs has taken from the stock footage of the adolescent dream imagination are used to introduce a different level of reading beneath the formal surface. The two texts which follow through this installation—one associative, the other a series of dissociative imperatives—further this intention. One reads, “When she whispered penetrate his rocket blasted into her yearning flower,” while the other says, “Die Now, Deny Now, Blunder Now, Act Now, Fell Now, Want Now, Tell Now, Alive Now.”

Like Jean Baudrillard’s objects of desire, the actors in this pantomime are manipulated by the conventional form of the story in which they are contained. Their apparent freedom starts to look like a sort of affable prison; subject and viewer are distanced in space and time by the consecutive, literal readings of the texts that accompany the individual pieces in the show. Meigs’ petrifaction of these characters’ simple gestures makes them become stilted, starchy, purely social conventions. In Meigs’ own words, “The gesture is the most minimal action. As a minimal, yet willed event, the gesture contains personal signs, social signs, and worldly objective signs.”

Throughout the installation figurative paintings are paired with abstract ones. The latter become a sort of public diary of inner thoughts that refer to the outer social skin of the narrative visual story being depicted. By placing two supposedly different styles of painting in tandem, Meigs heightens the implied tension between two alternate states of being—one physical and immediate, the other mental and dissociative. The heroes and heroines of Meigs’ installation act out their emotions through a beguiling admixture of verbal and visual cues. They suggest, through a play on words and gestures, that the physical form of all social exchanges is instigated by a myriad of coded, unconscious signals.

John K. Grande