Norval Morrisseau R.C.A., C.M., R.S.C.
“I transmit astral plane harmonies through my brushes into the physical plane. These otherworld colours are reflected in the alphabet of nature, a grammar in which the symbols are plants, animals, birds, fishes, earth and sky. I am merely a channel for the spirit to utilize, and it is needed by a spirit starved society.”
A member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (R.C.A.) since 1970, Norval Morrisseau is the celebrated founder of the Woodland Indian School of Art (today called the Anishnaabe art), which revitalized Anishnaabe iconography, traditionally incised on rocks and Midewiwin birchbark scrolls. A self-taught painter, Norval Morrisseau created an innovative visual vocabulary which was initially criticized in the Native community for its disclosure of traditional spiritual knowledge, previously passed down orally. He acquired his knowledge from his grandfather, , who taught him about Midewiwin scrolls which provided him with a source of powerful images and meanings.
In 1962 Morrisseau was the first Aboriginal artist to have work shown in a contemporary art gallery (the Pollock Gallery in Toronto), where his bright, stylized images of Windigos, spirit guides, and animals were so well received that he sold all the paintings at the opening night. His colourful, figurative images delineated with heavy black/blue formlines, were characteristically signed with the Cree syllabic spelling of Copper Thunderbird, the name medicine woman gave him – to overcome the sickness in youth.
Norval Morrisseau completed many commissions during his career, including the mural for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo ’67.
He was presented with the Order of Canada (C.M.) in 1978, and in 1980 honorary doctorates from McGill and McMaster Universities. In 1989 he was invited, as the only Canadian painter, to exhibit at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris to mark the bicentennial of the French Revolution. In 1995 he was awarded with the eagle feather (the highest honour awarded by the the Assembly of First Nations). In 1996 he was appointed Grand Shaman of the Ojibway and in 2005 he was elected to the ranks of The Royal Society of Canada2 (R.S.C.).
The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa had in 2006 a major retrospective of his works: “Norval Morrisseau – Shaman Artist” – the first solo exhibition featuring a First Nations artist in its 126-year history.
“Untitled”, © late 1990’s Norval Morrisseau
“The fish, sacred trout, was the most respected of all fish. The trout gave the Indian life in abundance and according to Ojibwa Indian mythology it represented his soul carrier. The trout carried the Indian soul through transmigration into an other existence in the supernatural or reincarnation. All this belief worked for the betterment of the Indian food in reality – faith in the supernatural.”
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