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Legends: Norval Morrisseau and Anishinabek "Woodland School" Artists


First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau is celebrated for establishing a style of art that became known as the Woodland School. Morrisseau pioneered the telling of Ojibwe legends and stories not in the traditional visual form, but through introducing a modernist, pictorial vocabulary.

The source for Morisseau’s inspiration is found in the earlier Ojibwe imagery which was inscribed or drawn on rock surfaces as petroglyphs or pictographs. Morrisseau’s decision to produce his art on canvas and paper marked a shift to European-influenced traditions, which served to broaden the artist’s opportunities to communicate his vision and cultural beliefs to a larger audience.

Morrisseau has stated that he wanted to communicate with the viewer using colour. His painted compositions are characterized by an intuitive use of bright, pure colour shapes contained within black form lines. Some of the artist’s works represent the role and power of the shaman, while others address the significance of animals and their relationship to the Ojibwe beliefs, offering revelations of an inherent spirituality. The final works are vibrant with a visually compelling graphic quality.

At the same time, other First Nations artists were similarly motivated in their desire to communicate the values of their culture. Through their collective actions, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, and other artists of Morrisseau’s generation emerged as proponents of a contemporary Woodland vision. More recently, subsequent generations of artists—painter Blake Debassige, sculptor Duffy Wilson, and others—have continued to advance awareness of their culture and knowledge of their oral traditions through the creation of unique and significant art forms.

Shaman and Disciples by Norval Morrisseau
Norval Morrisseau (1931-2007)
Shaman and Disciples, 1979
acrylic on canvas
180.5 x 211.5 cm
Purchase 1979
McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The Great and Mischievous Nanabush by Blake Debassige
Blake Debassige
(b. 1956)
The Great and Mischievous Nanabush, c. 1975
acrylic on canvas
121.5 x 132.3 cm
Purchase 1975
McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Spirit Fish by Carl Ray
Carl Ray
Spirit Fish, c. 1975
acrylic on canvas
61.4 x 76.7 cm
Purchase 1975
McMichael Canadian Art Collection


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