The Art of Norval Morrisseau
Norval Morrisseau is founder of a Canadian-originated school of art called Woodland or sometimes Legend or Medicine painting. As sole originator of the Woodland style his work has influenced and become an inspiration for three generations of artists. Morrisseau spent his youth in remote isolation in northern Ontario, near Thunder Bay, where his artistic style developed without the usual influences of other artists' imagery. He is known as "The Picasso of the North".
At the age of 19, he fell ill and was taken to a doctor but his health kept deteriorating. Fearing for his life, his mother called a medicine-woman who performed a renaming ceremony She gave him the new name Copper Thunderbird. According to Anishnaabe, giving a powerful name to a dying person can give them new energy and save their lives. Morrisseau recovered after the ceremony and from then on always signed his works with his new name.
Morrisseau was a self-taught artist and developed his own techniques and artistic vocabulary which captured ancient legends and images that came to him in visions or dreams. He was originally criticized by the native community because his images disclosed traditional spiritual knowledge. Initially he painted on any material he could find, especially birchbark, and also moose hide. The subjects of his art in the early period were myths and traditions of the Anishnaabe people. His later style changed and he began to use more standard materials and his colors became progressively brighter, eventually obtaining a neon-like brilliance. The themes also moved from traditional myth to depicting his own personal struggles. He also produced art depicting Christian subjects.
The cover art for the Bruce Cockburn album Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws is a painting by Norval Morrisseau.
In 1978, Morrisseau was made a Member of the Order of Canada. He was also a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
In 2005 and 2006, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa organized a retrospective of his work. This was the first time that the Gallery dedicated a solo exposition to a native artist.The National Arts Centre, urban ink co-production, "Copper Thunderbird", premiered on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) on Feb 4th 2008. Norval Morrisseau was honoured with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award during the NAAF Awards held at the Sony Centre in Toronto on March 22, 2008.