NORVAL MORRISSEAU, C.M. (1931-2007) ANISHINAABESHAMAN AND BIRDS, LATE 1970Sacrylic on paper, 18 x 24 in (45.7 x 61 cm)
inscribed by the artist in pencil, "We are our own / Salvation / brothers. the birds";
inscribed in an unknown hand, "Morrisseau #1".
Although this image is a figural one, it takes a moment to orient oneself in the present scene, which is a “zoomed-in” version of Morrisseau’s more typical paintings of the period. Once our eyes adjust we come to appreciate the dramatic intensity of this close-up view. Rather than lingering too long over any one detail, we capture the immediacy of this shaman’s communion with the figures of the birds. The sharp contrasts of colour and the artist's characteristic heavy, black outline beautifully capture the shaman’s sense of euphoria. In the centre of the work, streaks of a lightly washed blue sky peek from behind the black outlines of his figures to enclose and unite them. The man, his mouth agape to suggest that he is mid-speech, converses with a trio of bright eyed birds. Spangles of colour joyfully animate the three. Similarly, the rich reds, orange, and green pop from the black outline of his headdress. This painting depicts a shaman but the artist’s inscription on the verso acknowledges Morrisseau’s overlapping beliefs in shamanism, Christianity, and Eckankar philosophy. Over the course of his life and career Morrisseau battled with the colonial gaze, and much of his story has, regrettably, focused on the myth of the man rather than his artistic achievements. This magnificent work, in its balance of intensity and delicacy, and with its blend of in-your-face intimacy and lyrical wholeness, eloquently reminds of the artist’s incredible skill as both a storyteller and colourist. Literature: For a similar work, see: Norval Morrisseau, Ojibway Shaman Figure, 1975, acrylic on card, 101.6 x 81.3 cm, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, illustrated in Carmen Robertson, Norval Morrisseau: Life & Work, Art Canada Institute, 2016, Digital Publication; For more information on the artist and his works, see Carmen Robertson, “Telling Stories on Canvas: An Analysis of Norval Morrisseau’s Visual Narratives.” In The Memory of Nature in Aboriginal, Canadian and American Contexts, (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), p. 304–16; Norval Morrisseau & Donald Robinson, Norval Morrisseau: Travels to the House of Invention, (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1997).