Norval Morrisseau 1931-2007
"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."
"My art speaks and will continue to speak, transcending barriers of nationality, language and other forces that may be divisive, fortifying the greatness of the spirit that has always been the foundation of the Ojibwa people."
"I'm supposed to be the founder of the "woodland school". I don't know if I founded it or not, but that's what I'm going to call the school - the Woodland School of Art. I'm going to bring out all the oral history that hasn't been talked about. I'm an oral keeper, so people can know anything about the Native history going back to the Iroquiois wars and further. We are also going to talk about Native medicine. And I want to write down the oral traditions. I'm just like a walking library - if I get run over, the library's gone."
"My goal is to break the barrier between the white world and mine. I wish only one thing, to be an artist and to be respected as one - and my paintings to be seen by all people."
"My heart and soul is reflected into my mind and my mind is reflected into my hands."
"From the first time I picked up the brush, painting became my passion. Over the years that passion has grown and strengthened.
There is no other way to describe it. To paint is to live."
"I started to do some painting. I guess I saw some art literature from Arizona or the Southwest somewhere, but I was hungry to learn more. I wanted to paint my house and paint the walls in traditional pictographs like the ones I saw from the rock paintings and birch bark scrolls our people used to make."
"I was told by some relatives not to do this - that I should not be tampering with these forms, 'because the Indians will ostracize you'. Or the elders would not care for it, just like the Jesuits.
Nevertheless I was determined to do it, for it is my destiny..."
"The Shaman Artist
Wishes to express to us
The art form
That we are all
Our childlike simplicity
With dignity and sweet humility
Remind us of the Pure Spirit
Expressing itself upon ourselves."
"I don't wish my work to be exploited, but to be properly used as an art form in its proper place where for the generations of the great Ojibway people it can be seen in the future, as well as be appreciated by all our white brothers."
"I’ve been looking for books all my life – books about American Indians. Anything that I could find that was civil and worthwhile besides what my Grandfather was telling me about the Iroquois and others. There isn’t very much written about Natives in the art and history books we read today. The only thing that was written was about the Iroquois slaughtering the Jesuits somewhere and Sitting Bull and his followers being chased out of Canada."
"I want my work to be cornerstone for Indian art, to provide something that will last."
"I have always been attracted to religious paintings, but only the ones that had that mystical or supernatural quality in them, especially Saint Teresa by Bernini. Just looking at Saint Teresa I get some kind of vibrations from it. I can close my eyes and feel them. That's great art, and it brings on that tingling sexual feeling. Other saints, like Saint Sebastian, do that as well. But the Christ figure was always the one that was dominant for me.That's why I say that Christ to me is still the greatest shaman, and that is why some religious visions are so complex, and so very hard to explain to people."
"Love for life is a gift"
“I would like to say that I am an artist so that I can beautify the world and battle conditioned consciousness with the same tools used to condition it.
My culture is my world.”
“What I teach the people many times is that attitude and attention will determine the whole course of our lives. Get rid of fear and that is all you ever have to get rid of. Fear of anything at all.”
"You've got to make an effort and bring your problems with you. And the first thing those problems are gone. Where imagination goes the mind follows. It's a therapy in a way.'
“My paintings are icons, that is to say, they are images which help focus on spiritual powers, generated by traditional belief and wisdom.”
"It is our Ojibwa tradition to recall our history or obtain our history in an oral manner. It is important for our children and others to benefit through the process of continuing to recall and make history."
"I guess I was increasingly seeking the art form and culture I was being taught, but there was none out there."
"The Grand Shaman is like the Pope of Rome. The Pope is on one side of coin, the Shaman on the other side of the coin."
"My Grandfather told me once that nobody, no matter how hard they tried, could he remember all of the legends, otherwise, the whole of Northwestern Ontario would be covered in Pictographs."
"I consider Manitoulin Island to be the most sacred place in Canada"
"My idea is, why I draw them, see, there's lots of stories that are told in Ojibway but that wasn't enough for me. I wanted to draw them - that's from my own self - my own idea what they look like."
"Be who you are no matter how hard it is. Never mind the ridicule."
"Today we wonder and are distracted by the white man's ways that we cannot cope with. Those of us who are lucky have made it. But a lot of us are still behind, by trying to live like our white brothers and their religion, ignoring our great ancestors' culture. If one has an intelligent mind we could live side by side with our ancient ways and same time get us where we should be."
"Armed with an arsenal of heavenly designs and sculptures, the priests were prepared and fearless. With their unlimited resources and soldiers they were sent to conquer the New World and bring their culture and religion to every corner."
"People had to be stripped of their culture before they could be taught to be civilized. The Natives of the Americas were not the dogs people were misled to believe, but rather a sophisticated network of different cultures, religions and so on."
"When the Jesuits came, the Indian was already around. The Indian did not understand them. He tried to understand them, what they were up to. He knew that they were going to be there for awhile. He knew how sad it was, seeing his people, how low they were put, how they had previously enjoyed living and needed to live freely again. How do we go about doing that now? We need images. We’re going to use images ourselves."
"To accomplish what I have started and to die in it feeling I have fulfilled what I started - to reach a level where I and Manitou and the Indian will always keep the Indian faith alive - to be a great Artist and Preserver of Indian culture. I accept it fully as a duty in life which was set forth for, to set an example."
"These paintings only remind you that you're an Indian. Inside somewhere, we're all Indians. So now when I befriend you, I'm trying to get the best Indian, bring out the Indianness in you to make you think everything is sacred."
"The Ojibway believed the thunder to be a great massive bird called thunderbird, whose eyes shoot out lighting and thunder. The first thunder in early spring was something good to hear, for the Ojibway welcomed their protector again from its home in the south where it had been all the winter. Offerings of tobacco were placed on the ground or on water or put into stove to burn, or sacred pipes were smoked by the elders to the thunderbird in the early spring."
"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."
"Nepii-Naba, the merman, who brought good luck to those who offered him tobacco and, in return, helped Indians to travel safely on lakes and rivers"
“Among the Indians, as among other nations, some people are born artists, but most are not. I am a born artist. I have as much interest in my people as any anthropologist, and I have studied our culture and lore. My aim is to reassemble the pieces of a once proud culture, and to show the dignity and bravery of my people.”
"Now, when I paint a picture I just alow myself to be used. I pick up the pencil and the canvas. I allow the interaction with soul to reflect in the mind, to put down these images of people, men or women or children especially. I may draw a hundred children, but there is never the same colour."
"I go to the inner places, I go to the source, I go to the house of invention."
"Many times people tell me that I’ve cured them of something, whatever’s ailing them. But I didn’t do anything. It was the colour of the painting that did it. But now it’s even much stronger. The healing is much stronger than it ever was. What I finally find is this: We could live with turmoil and the anguish in everything and still we could feel contented and happy and compassionate. What we got rid of is the stress with colour.”
"So, if am in this World to deliver any messages I wouldn't want to be a preacher. I would want to be a painter"
"Let's put it this way. I know what is to be hungry and poor in cloths. But the spirit of one that is poor shall never be weaken by hunger, as hunger is good matter. This is what gives a man life and wisdom. I don't regret that I was hungry."
"As for the colours, one was for the heart, one was for the bum, one was for the arms, one was for all the different kinds of sicknesses."
"A long time ago, maybe two or three hundred years ago, before white men were around, some people were worried about what was going to happen.... so they went to talk to a shaman. They asked him if he could find out. The shaman went to a sacred place and started singing and drumming. He beat on his drum harder and harder until he jumped right out of his body and began to rise up in his consciousness. He went up to the third astral plane where he could fly through time. He flew through time until he reached the year 2000 and then came down to look around. Below him he could see hundreds, thousands... more than he could count... millions of ants travelling down well traveled trails... and mountains sticking out of the plains like giant ice crystals, reflecting the sun back into his face. When he returned to his own time he told the people about what he had seen. He told them that what ever these creatures were, there was lots of them and they were coming."
"All is well"
"We natives believe in the following saying: "Our God is Native. The Great Deity of the Five Planes is so. We are neither for nor against, We speak not of Christ nor of God. We say, 'Let them be.' We follow the Spirit on its Inward Journey of Soul through attitudes and attentions. Remember we are all in a big School and the Inner Master teaches us Experience over many Lifetimes."
"I have always been attracted to religious paintings, but only the ones that had that mystical or supernatural quality in them, especially Saint Teresa by Bernini. Just looking at Saint Teresa I get some kind of vibrations from it. I can close my eyes and feel them. That's great art, and it brings on that tingling sexual feeling. Other saints, like Saint Sebastian, do that as well. But the Christ figure was always the one that was dominant for me.That's why I say that Christ to me is still the greatest shaman, and that is why some religious visions are so complex, and so very hard to explain to people. So whenever you are looking at my pictures, you are looking at my visions, whatever they may be."
"Years ago I was walking down the street in Winnipeg feeling sorry for myself. A man was walking towards me, He had long hair and a leather jacket, and as we meet he said,'Things are not as bad as we think'. I looked away for a second and when I looked back he was gone. I never saw that man again."
"I may not have a Ferrari, but I'm the first Indian to break into the Canadian art scene and I have forever enriched the Canadian way of life. I want to make paintings full of colour, laughter, compassion and love. I want to make paintings that will make people happy, that will change the course of people's lives. If I can do that, I can paint for 100 years."
"Why am I alive? To heal you guys who are more screwed up than I am. How can I heal you? With colour. These are the colours you dreamt about one night."
"Everything renews itself because we are too polluted. Everything that we breath. Everything that we eat. The only thing I guess that's not polluted yet is our Spiritual environment. But it is our duty to maintain and keep that environment intact... if we ever get it polluted..."
“They speak about this tortured man, me, but I'm not. I've had a marvelous time, when I was drinking and now that I'm not, a marvelous time in my life."
"I've always wanted to be a role model. I've always wanted to stay an Indian. I wanted the little kids to know that."
"Just as a fish swims in any clear northern lake (in a medium that is virtually invisible to the eye) so we, if we are to live all right, should realize we live in a dimension on which our very existence, as people and artists, depends. The dimension is that of connectivity in life shared together in mutual respect… Fish, in spawning runs, seem to urge each other on, to reach safe and secluded lakes, with plentiful food supplies. Once there, they can live more non-competitively."
"The Ojibways have great respect for the Bear. According to their legends, in the distant past the Bear had a human form and was in fact an ancestor of the Ojibways. Therefore he understands the Indian language and will never attack or fight any Indian if he is addressed properly."
"As far as sex was concerned. I did everything under the sun. In those days I was a very sexually oriented person. But things change, things develop, and everything sooner or later dies. There are some things that grow, and you constantly have to sort out your thoughts and ideas."
"I can live anywhere. I can paint anywhere. I have painted six panels of the Man Who Changed Into a Thunderbird. All these paintings came from within. I don't need to isolate myself to do them. I can paint them here, there or anywhere. A pipe band could be going by, or cars."
"That's another thing I'm into. I can close my eyes and see hordes and hordes of galloping cossacks. I love to watch Ukrainian men and women dancing. I wanted them to dance on the deck of my place as a blessing, but I don't know what people would think on the reserve. When you start thinking universally It seems to me you're in tune with all these different people..."
"I paint with these colours to heal, my paintings honour the Anishnaabe ancestors who have roamed the Great Lakes for centuries upon centuries."
"We are all one"
"My people believe the earth to be their mother and that we are children of the earth. In spirit we are one with our environment."
"Personally I am not thinking about myself truthfully in this present year but years ahead when I am death for the children of mine and the generations of my people to feel proud of the art heritage of the Ojibway and every nationality is proud of its culture."
"We Are All One in Spirit"
* Still image from "The Paradox of Norval Morrisseau" - film by NFB © 1974