Wednesday, December 19, 2007

IN MEMORIAM: NORVAL MORRISSEAU

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NORVAL MORRISSEAU (1931-2007)
"We Are All One in Spirit"
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NORVAL MORRISSEAU, NATIVE CANADIAN ARTIST, IS DEAD
Text: Randy Kennedy
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Norval Morrisseau, also known as Copper Thunderbird, one of Canada’s most celebrated painters and an important influence in the development of North American indigenous art, died Tuesday (December 4th, 2007) in Toronto. He was thought to be 75, though his birth year has been listed as both 1931 and 1932.
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The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said the Assembly of First Nations, which represents Canadian Native tribes.
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Mr. Morrisseau, an Ojibwa (also called Anishnaabe or Chippewa) shaman, was one of the first native painters to adopt modernist styles to convey traditional aboriginal imagery and to have a crossover career in contemporary art. His style, which became known as Woodland or Legend painting, evoked ancient etchings from birch-bark scrolls and often used X-ray-like motifs: skeletal elements and internal organs visible within the forms of animals and people, and black spirit lines emanating from them.
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“Saturated with startling, often contrasting colors, such paintings appear to vibrate under the viewer’s gaze,” said the National Gallery of Canada, which organized a retrospective of Mr. Morrisseau’s work in 2006, the first solo show for a native artist in the institution’s history. It is now on view in Lower Manhattan through Jan. 20 at the George Gustav Heye Center, part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
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Of a 2001 New York show at the Drawing Center of Mr. Morrisseau’s drawings, made on sheets of paper towels while he was in jail in Canada in the late 1960s, Holland Cotter of The New York Times wrote: “The results aren’t ingratiating or beautiful. Like visionary work in many cultures, they’re aggressive, sometimes violent, as much about fearfulness as about transcendence.”
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Born Jean-Baptiste Norman Henry Morrisseau in northern Ontario, he was the eldest son in a family of seven and was raised, according to tradition, by his maternal grandparents. His grandmother was Catholic, and his grandfather, whom he described as his most important influence, was a shaman. Their discordant views formed the background for much of his early life and his development as a self-taught artist working between two worlds.
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He was believed to have been given his native name in his teens, when he became seriously ill. He said his life was saved by a medicine woman who renamed him, calling him Copper Thunderbird; a thunderbird is a powerful symbol in Ojibwa folklore.
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Mr. Morrisseau, who dropped out of school at a young age and lived much of his life in poverty even after becoming established, was known as a charismatic, often unpredictable figure in the art world. He frustrated dealers, sometimes calculating his paintings’ worth not by their quality but by the square inch ($3.55 at one point, according to a gallery owner). He battled alcoholism his whole life, and at a low ebb in the 1980s, living on Vancouver’s streets, was known to trade his work for liquor money.
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But after the tremendous success of his first exhibition in Toronto in 1962, he was also often prolific and showed his work around the world. Marc Chagall, who met him in Paris when both artists were having exhibitions there, compared him to Picasso.
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He is survived by numerous children and grandchildren. In his later years, as accolades piled up, his life became more orderly, and he continued to paint until 2002, when Parkinson’s left him unable to do so. In 2005 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada. He was also awarded honorary doctorates from McGill and McMaster universities and received the highest honor awarded by the Assembly of First Nations, the eagle feather.
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“Why am I alive?” he said in a 1991 interview with The Toronto Star. “To heal you guys who’re more screwed up than I am. How can I heal you? With color. These are the colors you dreamt about one night.”
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Randy Kennedy

Source: The New York Times

* Detailed information about the painting in this posting unknown, © c. 1970s Norval Morrisseau /Private Collection/

3 comments:

Devram said...

I'd just like to say that this blog has great potential as a forum to discuss the work and importance of Norval Morrisseau. I am concerned that, to a degree, it has functioned merely as a fan page to laud and extol Morrisseau. A more balance critical assessment would be even more useful. He was an artist. Perhaps the religio-spiritual elements, though germane to his oeuvre, should not be over-stressed. Instead, the evaluation of the merits of his work, good and (yes) bad, should be addressed more critically. The pasting of articles from other sources is duplicative and any of us could access this information by running a Google News search. Material such as your assessment of Morrisseau's variations in signing his work was very good to read and of value to collectors. More work in this area needs to be done, but with clarity and objective reticence, rather than over the top zeal. A final area of concern that I have is that the posting of paintings from a private collection can only have the effect of raising the concern that perhaps this blog is a tool for advertising the contents of one collector's cache of paintings, which is an unfortunate possibility that could be counteracted by the posting of works from many sources, public and private. These comments are not intended to harm but to help and to strengthen the laudable initiative you have shown in creating this place for lovers of the artist's work. I would, finally, encourage you to continue your work and to focus the scope and aims of the blog on providing material that can be useful to all who appreciate this artist.

Spirit Walker said...

Devram,

Thank you very much for constructive criticizm. I am open to any suggestion especially to people submitting images of the paintings from their personal collections.

As I posted earlier I am going to present all the knowledege that I have regarding tell-tale signs of authentic works of Norval Morrisseau and I do not agree that you needed to be involved with an artist in order to recognize authentic work(s) of the artist.

The time is not right for elaborate presentation especially when we have in mind that the artist in question, Norval Morrisseau, is not laid to rest yet.

Expect that in the beginning of the year I will start presenting a study of my views of how to recognize the authentic works of Norval Morisseau.

Megweetch,

Spirit Walker

Devram said...

Excellent. I'm looking forward to it!