Thursday, November 29, 2007

Understanding Art of Norval Morrisseau (Part I)

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"The Storyteller - The Artist and His Grandfather", 68"x37" ea. © Norval Morrisseau 1978 /Collection of "Indian and Northern Affairs", Gatineau, Quebec/

/The information posted below is based on personal experience(s) and exposure(s) to the art of Norval Morrisseau of the Blog Master/


The following are examples of inscriptions on Norval Morrisseau paintings/drawings:

1. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics*; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©+Title;
2. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* ; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©+No Title;
3. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* +Year; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©+No Title;
4. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* ; Back-No inscription;
5. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* +Title; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©;
6. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* +Title+Year; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©;
7. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* + Signature in English**+Year+©+Title; Back: No inscription;
8. Front: No inscription; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©;
9. Front- Initials (NM)+Year; Back: No inscription;
10. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* ; Back-Initials (NM)+Year+©+Title;
11. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* ; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©+Title+Stylized image of a Thunderbird;
12. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* ; Back: Signature in English**+Year+©+No Title+Stylized image of a Thunderbird;
13. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* ; Back: Signature in English**+Year+No Title+Thumbprint;
14. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* ; Back: Signature in English**+Year+Title+Thumbprint;
15. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* +Thumbprint; Back: Signature in English**+Year+Title;
16. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* +Thumbprint; Back: Signature in English**+Year+No Title;
17. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics* +©; Back: Signature in English**+Year+No Title;

18. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics*; Back: Initial of the fist name+Last name (in English)**+Year+V+Title;
19. Front: Signature in Cree Syllabics*; Back: Initial of the first name+Last name (in English)**+Year+©+No Title;
20. Front: No signature in Cree Syllabics*+©; Back: Signature in English**+Year+No Title; ETC…

*-“Copper Thunderbird
**-“Norval Morrisseau”

All of the examples listed above are just “some of the ways” that Norval Morrisseu would sign his art. He would sign his full name in English on the back of the canvas and/or paper but sometimes he would sign an abbreviated version depending on how close he was to the painting and/or drawing's edge. Many times he would not sign or write anything on the back of the piece of art. Glenbow Museum in Calgary has 96 original Norval Morrisseau pieces and more than 90% of them are not signed, dated or titled on the reverse. He would usually sign the front Signature in Cree Syllabics+ Signature in English+Year+©+Title or No Title at all in case of a very large canvases but again he would do that for the average size paintings also. He would also sign diptych paintings by signing only one canvas on the front in Cree syllabics and sometimes he would sign them both instead. Norval Morrisseau would title, date and sign, in both Cree syllabics and English on the faces of each panel and multiple canvas sets.

Titles are executed in this way e.g. “ - SHAMAN WITH THUNDERBIRD - “. As you can see he would draw a dash before and after the title. These are some of the tell-tale signs of original paintings of Norval Morrisseau. Sometimes he would paint the copyright symbol © and next to it he would encircle the year of production. Also, he would sign in Cree syllabics his signature on the face of the painting in all possible scenarios eg. horizontally, vertically and, quite commonly painted to follow the curves of the elements in the painting and/or drawing. Sometimes he would sign his Cree syllabic signature in three rows and sometimes he would encircle his signature that has been written in the same fashion. In the 1960's and 1970's he would sign his art as per the above examples mostly with brush while in the 1980's he signed and titled many art pieces in pencil.

He would date the paintings and/or drawings e.g. '70 (for painted in 1970) which applies to most of the art pieces from 1950's, 1960's and 1970's. In 1980's and 1990's he would mostly date his works e.g. '88 (for painted 1988). Also he would not inscribe anything on the back with Cree syllabics but would signature the piece on the front only.

*it is also worth mentioning that he did many paintings using blue colour rather than the most commonly used black colour for the outlines of his paintings.

Please note that in one of the most important of the publicly known pieces of art painted by Norval Morrisseau: "The Storyteller - The Artist and His Grandfather, 1978 (click on image above to enlarge), he did not paint the third syllabic of his signature in Cree. This is a perfect example that his syllabic signature does not need to be complete as long as the "other elements" in the painting are to be found present.

For the inscription on the back of the painting he would use a paint brush, ballpoint pen, marker, pencil...etc. If the paintings on canvas and/or paper were from a series of paintings that represented one piece of art Norval Morrisseau would mark it in this fashion 1-4, 2-4, 3-4, 4-4. At times he would label them as 1 OF 2, 2 OF 2. If the painting was from a series of the same theme he would mark on the back of the canvas and/or paper in Roman numerals “IV” which in this case represented painting No.4 from the series. At times he would take several canvases with different sizes and paint similar themes executed in different ways with the same or different colour palette. In most cases for sets on paper he would paint the front in syllabics and he would also number it in one of the bottom corners 1-7, 2-7, 3-7... and in the other corner he would sign his signature in English and date it. Both of these inscriptions would be in pencil and sometimes he would sign the back in English,with a title+year with a paint brush dipped only once leaving a tell tale sign of trailing on the letters.The signature would show up obscure and faint at different points in the letters as the brush tip would run out of paint.
If you have a Norval Morrisseau painting and it's title is misspelled know that Norval Morrisseau was not a perfect speller the English language - he misspelled MANY titles of his paintings and drawings.

His art is speaking to you. It is amazing how powerful his paintings emanate energy. The image on the front of the canvas is a 'signature' to his style. Morrisseau's signature style of painting blends harmonic colour combinations along with different shapes and sizes. Creating a soothing balance of medicinal colour as seen in the canvas of nature throughout his creations.

Paintings from late 1950’s and early 1960’s were executed by use of oils, tempera, ink, ball-point pen...etc. Acrylics were used upon Jack Pollock (in 1962), his first agent, introduced him to that medium which he liked very much due to the fact that acrylics were drying faster than oils. Morrisseau did not always use “true acrylics" - he would mix his colours with paints of different quality. If you intend to clean any original Norval Morrisseau painting that you have in your collection - DO NOT do it yourself. Always consult a professional with extensive experience in painting restoration. If you have canvas that is not stretched do so at an experienced frame shop by asking if they have experience in stretching Norval Morrisseau paintings due to the fact that Morrisseau did not always use the best quality canvas and paint for his works of art. The canvas he used in the 1980's were in most of the cases better in quality than those from his earlier periods.

Norval Morrisseau painted on different mediums such as: canvas, paper, drift wood, plywood, animal hide, masonite, particle board, wall paneling, glass, kraft paper, stone, slate, wood board...etc. Also he painted on: fridges, beds, lamp shades, pop cans, glass bottles, ironing boards, maple buckets, doors, walls, ladders, cars, framed glass pictures, coats, tables, chairs, grocery paper bags, and much more.

It is difficult to say how many pieces of art Norval Morrisseau had painted or drawn in all his career. In my opinion he had painted more pieces of art than stated in "The Ottawa Citizen" article "Morrisseau experts hunt for up to 10,000 pieces", written by Paul Gessell - January 02, 2007. My guess would be at least twice or even three times that amount which would make him the most prolific artist in art history***, but to prove that would not be an easy task.

*** - According to the Guinness Books of records the most prolific artist is Pablo Picasso who produced about 13,500 paintings/designs in his career.

Note: All of the information stated above will be illustrated with examples in one of the future posts of this Blog.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Spirit Walker

/The painting in this posting is an authentic work of © Norval Morrisseau. Images of this pair of canvases titled "The Storyteller - The Artist and His Grandfather (1978) can be found on page 151 in "The Art of Norval Morrisseau" /Sinclair, Lister, Jack Pollock, and Norval Morrisseau/ -Toronto, Ontario: Methuen, 1979./

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thank you for such detailed info that when applied to observation of my own piece gives me re-assurance that indeed a have honouring my home a 'Morrisseau'

Spirit Walker said...

Hi "Anonymous",

You are free to e-mail me photographs of your painting(s) that you have in your posession and I will give my non-bias opinion if I believe you have an original of Norval Morrisseau. I promise I would respect you confidentiality. I am offering my opinion based on my personal experiences and exposure to the original art of Norval Morrisseau. You may find my info if you "View my complete profile"...

If you decide to do so I would need photographs of the front and back of your painting(s)...

Megweetch

Bryant Ross said...

It would be nice if we could acually and factually find out what happened in the creation of the questionable paintings from the 70's. Then we could all be experts.
The painting pictured on this page is truly a Morrisseau masterpiece. My question to Spiritwalker is, How is it signed on the back?
Cheers
Bryant Ross - Coghlan Art

Spirit Walker said...

Mr. Ross, I am afraid I cannot answer that question because I did not see the painting in person.

Did you?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ross said: "It would be nice if we could acually and factually find out what happened in the creation of the questionable paintings from the 70's. Then we could all be experts."

I believe what Spirit Walker has to say because what he had written here is more information that it was ever given before to the public.

I also believe that number of galleries in Canada are not selling "questionable paintings from the 70's" - THEY ARE SELLING ORIGINAL PAINTINGS FROM THE 70's.

I know the reson behind your words Mr. Ross - the Secondary market of the original Morrisseau pieces from the 70's is "killing you" and you are trying to discredit anybody else in that matter...

Anonymous said...

talk about trying to discredit others,gabe vadas is top of the list.And he refuses to offer any proof or take any action,the fraud is his.
his latest,red lake museum is having a norval morrisseau show,vadas calls and demands
$25,000.00.We know the many things he has done,looks like maybe he spent all of norval's money.

Bryant Ross said...

Bryant Ross - Coghlan Art
The secondary market is not killing me. I am part of it. Slandering me is not a positive step and will not legitimize your paintings.
The Red Lake Hertage Center did contact Gabe Vadas (not the other way around) about their up coming show next July. Gabe informed them that Morrisseau would expect a perdium for his participation. No outragous sums were demanded for. As I have mentioned else where in this blog, Morrisseau still needs to generate income to pay his bills. The National Gallery had no problem with this for the Shaman Artist shows.
By the way, Norval has no problem spending his own money.