By James R. Stevens
A Picasso In The North Country
The Wild Journey of Canadian Artist Norval Morrisseau - Copper Thunderbird
Over 220 pages with 190 images.
Autographed, limited collectors edition. Only 750 copies made. Buy now. Only a few copies remain.
In Canadian Art, no painter in the 20th century gained the notoriety and acclaim that was bestowed upon Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau.
Norval was born into a childhood of poverty in a marginalized group of First Nations people on the shores of Lake Nipigon. In the depressed 1930s, the odds of survival were stacked against him. Only semi-educated, it is astonishing in retrospect that Norval would rise to the apex of artistic acclaim. But in the heart of Norval was a desire to seek even greater personal greatness above his lowly status as a Canadian Indian.
In his youth he would imagine himself as Thor and Aphrodite as well as singers Beverly Sills and Carmen. He was also entranced with pre-Christian myths that he learned from his grandfather Potan and other elders in his forest-rooted tribe.
Educated only to Grade 4 in a Catholic Residential School, he would engage in a personal struggle between western religion and the fading spiritual animism of his people. All the more, this complexity as a person was skewed by years of alcoholism and the gift of two-spiritedness. Norval’s sexuality had few boundaries.
As a boy he loved to draw and create images on cabin walls and scraps of paper. As he got older, Norval eventually transgressed the taboo to depict the creatures and demigods of his Ojibway heritage to discover that the Western world treasured his striking depictions on birch bark and coarse paper.
Fans of Norval’s bold and colorful paintings were looking at magic images, which he retrieved through the personages and characters of Ojibway myth and embodied them in forms that were never seen before on canvas and paper. Creatures, moose, ﬁsh, and birds jumped out at audiences, and critics quickly labeled him a “genius.”
Through this success came money that he had no ability or inclination to manage. For in his 45-year career as a painter, he never learned to subtract or divide figures.