Official Unveiling Rideau Hall 27 September, 2012
Photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall
© 2012 Office of the Secretary to the Governor General of Canada
Karen Bailey's Artist Statement presented at the
Unveiling of the Official Portrait of The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
27 September, 2012, Rideau Hall, Ottawa
I paint people at work - military medical personnel, church tea ladies, waitresses, charity shop volunteers.
The setting of this portrait, the ballroom of Rideau Hall, may be grander than a hospital ward or church kitchen, the subject, The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, more high profile than a nurse or tea lady but my approach remains the same.
Ultimately, mine is a portrait of a woman at work - a woman who welcomes all Canadians and who believes in enabling them, individually and collectively, to share their story. Madame Jean likes to say that her favorite landscape is people.
The scale and complexity of the painting presented me with many challenges. Working together with Madame Jean and Jean-Daniel Lafond became a collaborative effort as well as a meeting of minds. A design was established over a seven month period and following design approval I painted on the canvas for over three months.The process allowed me to consider what it means to be Canadian and that, while individuals are important, it is the community we create together that matters.I have learned the importance of enabling people to tell their stories and the medium of art to act as a vibrant conduit.
Some special details of my portrait include:
The Haida drummer infers the heartbeat of the work.
I’ve depicted the energy of youth expressing themselves through creativity, imagination and technology.
Madame Jean is full face and open, welcoming the viewer into "the living room of the nation", the ballroom of Rideau Hall. She holds the hand of her daughter Marie-Eden, age six. She fulfills her official role but is always a mother first.
Her husband, philosopher and filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond stands by her and is as dedicated as she is to their shared vision of making the institution of the governor general a space where all can be heard. Madame Jean was not alone as Governor General - she reflected and encouraged the efforts, ideas and strengths of all citizens.
Standing next to Madame Jean are also three Canadian military medical personnel. In her role as Commander-in-Chief she visited the armed forces in Afghanistan several times, including the Role 3 Hospital in Kandahar. She was deeply impressed and touched by the professional and caring approach of the medical staff towards all patients which included military personnel, Afghan civilians as well as children. These nurses, doctors and technicians performed medical miracles in a challenging environment. In the middle of the work, a World War II veteran reminds the viewer of past military conflict. The Governor General’s aide-de-camp observes the scene.
Madame Jean was responsible for having Norval Morrisseau's triptych "Androgony" installed in 2008 on the front wall of the ballroom. This powerful testimony of aboriginal heritage, culture and perspective is fundamental to our Canadian experience and shapes our national identity. This gesture epitomized her deep connection to the aboriginal peoples, First nations, Metis and Inuit of Canada.
Humanity, narrative and warmth are essential in my work. These are qualities I associate with Madame Jean’s generous contribution as Governor General.