Historic Art | Norval Morriseau


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Bird and Bear 1981

Technique: acrylic on paper

Dimensions: 18 x 23.5 in.


ex. James Peter Richards, Morriseau’s agent

By the 1980s, Norval Morrisseau had established himself as a prominent figure in Canadian art and it was clear that he had inspired a new generation of artists. He spearheaded the artistic movement called the Woodland School and had developed a new visual vocabulary for indigenous artists.

As a Master colourist, he uses brilliant, often complementary, colours placed side by side, combined with shamanic symbolism and contains them with heavy, cloisonné-like black outlines. He often encircles the images with interconnecting power lines. Like electric currents, they express relationships of spiritual energy. Emanating from the eyes, they indicate visionary ability; from the body, the represent the transfer of scared power or spiritual energy to others.

In the 1980s Morrisseau’s subject matter was predominately tranquil, mirroring one of his favorite sayings: “All is well”. The works from this time give the viewer an overall impression of peace, harmony, and the existence of a unified life force. Like in Bird and Bear, the birds and animals are in a spiritual dialogue. The paintings portray a quiet peaceful kinship among all creatures of the earth.

About the Artist

Norval Morrisseau, artist (b at Sand Point Reserve, near Beardmore, Ont 14 Mar 1932; d at Toronto 4 Dec 2007). Norval Morrisseau was a self-taught artist of Ojibwa ancestry (his Ojibwa name, which appears in syllabics on his paintings, means "Copper Thunderbird") and he originated the pictographic style, or what is referred to as "Woodland Indian art,""legend painting" or "x-ray art." This style is a fusion of European easel painting with Ojibwa Midewiwin Society scrolls and pictography of rock paintings. Introduced to the Canadian public at the Pollock Gallery, Toronto, in 1962, Morrisseau was the first artist of First Nations ancestry to break through the Canadian professional white-art barrier. Throughout the 1960s Morrisseau's pictographic style grew in popularity and was often perceived by other Cree, Ojibwa and Ottawa artists as a tribal style, to be adapted for their own cultural needs. By the 1970s younger artists painted exclusively in his genre.

For Morrisseau, the 1970s were a time of struggle to reconcile traditional Midewiwin and Christian religions in his art and personal life. Combining his Ojibwa heritage, instilled in him by his maternal grandfather, Moses Nanakonagos, with the religion Eckankar, his works during the 1980s became more focused on spiritual elements. Morrisseau continues to study Ojibwa shamanistic practices, which he believes elevate his work to a higher plane of understanding.

Norval Morrisseau was presented with the Order of Canada in 1978. In 2006, the National Gallery of Canada mounted Norval Morrisseau - Shaman Artist, a travelling retrospective exhibition of the artist's work.

The Canadia Encyclopedia, Author: Tom Hill
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