As part of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection’s continuing celebration of its 40th Anniversary, we are delighted to host this exhibition of works by Norval Morrisseau, one of Canada’s best-known First Nations artists and one who has achieved national and international acclaim.
Norval Morrisseau, also called Copper Thunderbird, rose to fame in the 1960s when he developed the unique painting style known as the Woodland School. Today this art style is called Anishnaabe painting, a reference to the artist’s heritage.
Organized and circulated by the National Gallery of Canada, this landmark exhibition chronicles Morrisseau’s search for a style of art that would integrate his knowledge of ancient Anishnaabe spirituality within a contemporary art form. His desire to create a bridge of understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures is demonstrated in highly communicative works that appeal to a broad audience without diminishing the integrity of their content. Drawn from the National Gallery’s collection as well as from public and private collections in Canada, the United States, and Israel, the selection includes two paintings from the McMichael’s permanent collection and many works that have rarely or never before been exhibited.
The exhibition comprises drawings, painted objects, and paintings – including early works painted on such unorthodox surfaces as birchbark, cardboard, and craft paper. Morrisseau’s subjects include earthly animals and plants, spiritual creatures inhabiting heavenly and underworld realms, as well as ancestors and human intermediaries who communicate with the spirit world.
Norval Morrisseau: Shaman Artist records Morrisseau’s progression as an artist, charting the creative and spiritual journey that contributed to his unique painting style. In works that evoke ancient symbolic etchings of sacred birchbark scrolls and pictographic renderings of spiritual creatures, Morrisseau “reveals” the souls of humans and animals through his unique “x-ray” style of imaging: Sinewy black “spirit” lines emanate, surround, and link the figures. Skeletal elements and internal organs are visible within the figures’ delineated segments. Saturated with startling, often contrasting colours, such paintings appear to vibrate under the viewer’s gaze and serve to remind us why this shaman artist inspired three generations of Anishnaabe to pursue painting and printmaking as a means to celebrate their heritage. Norval Morrisseau signs all of his works in Cree syllabics as Copper Thunderbird, and during the course of his career has made an outstanding contribution to art – a contribution that will resonate for generations to come.
Raised on the Sand Point Reserve near Lake Nipigon in Northern Ontario, Norval Morrissueau is a Member of the Order of Canada. He was acknowledged as Grand Shaman of the Ojibwa in 1986 and, in 1995, the Assembly of First Nations bestowed on him their highest honour, the presentation of an eagle feather. In 1989, Morrisseau, whom the French press dubbed “Picasso of the North,” was the only painter from Canada invited to exhibit at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris as part of the French Revolution Bicentennial celebrations. In addition, Norval Morrisseau is one of the first artists to be inducted into the Royal Society of Canada, the Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada.
This exhibition at the McMichael has received generous financial assistance from
Norval Morrisseau, b.1931
Untitled (Shaman), c.1971
acrylic on paper
130.7 x 89.7 cm
National Gallery of Canada
Gift of Audrey and Gary Kilpatrick, Rainy River, Ontario, 2000
© Norval Morrisseau 2006