In collaboration with the staff, clients, volunteers, service partners and supporters of The Ottawa Mission, Karen Bailey brings into the Ottawa Art Gallery intimate gestures of care that honour community. Karen has been painting portraits of under-recognized people for more than 20 years, in Canada and internationally. With a skillfully layered palette and gestural brushwork, she reflects on and conveys complex and hopeful aspects of relationships between people and places.
The Ottawa Mission was created in 1906 to provide emergency supports such as food, clothing and shelter as well as spiritual care to people in need. Karen worked in conjunction with the Mission to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the expansion of its building at 35 Waller Street and its continued presence there since 1922.
Over time, the Ottawa Mission has evolved into a modern service hub to help vulnerable people reclaim their lives. It provides primary, dental and hospice care; employment, education and housing support; job training; and mental health, addiction and trauma treatment. Today, the Mission is recognized as a leader in providing transformational support to those who need it with compassion, dignity and unconditional acceptance.
Karen’s practice resonates with the Mission’s longstanding and extensive endeavours in Ottawa: both reflecting an enduring commitment to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and those who have worked tirelessly to provide emotional and physical shelter. The people represented here generously agreed to collaborate on this project with Karen. While some sittings took place at Karen’s home, most were held at the Mission. Karen observed the people she painted working, sketching when time and space permitted. She also used photographic references to create portraits that resonate warmth and sensitivity.
The collection of portraits presented here in support of The Ottawa Mission continue Karen’s practice of painting as storytelling, wherein she shares her distinctive approach to portraiture as a labour of care and careful labour. The Ottawa Art Gallery is honoured to collaborate with The Ottawa Mission and Karen Bailey in sharing these stories of resilience, dignity and care.
Written by Karen Bailey, Rachelle Dickenson and Aileen Leo
Curators: Karen Bailey, Rachelle Dickenson & Aileen Leo
Exhibition Assistance: Meghan Ho
Editing: Lucy Trew, Véronique Couillard
French Translation: Marie-Camille Lalande
Installation: Jennifer Gilliland, Dan Austin, Peter Shmelzer, Mark Garland, Rob Keefe
Photographers of artworks: Clive Cretney and Norman Paul
This project was realized in Collaboration with the Ottawa Mission and has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.
This exhibition was also realized with the support of the City of Ottawa, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.
Image: Andrew and Jesse in the Laundry, 2022, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40”
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