Thursday 22 April 2010
Statements about Norval Morrisseau
"When the history of the twentieth century art in North America is written, no chapter will be more dramatic or significant than that of the Anishnabe painters, the aboriginal people of the Great Canadian Shield. In the 1950's when it appeared that their culture was on the verge of being extinguished by the onslaught of the "white" civilization, there was a move by several individuals to preserve the ancient oral traditions by recording them in writing and in art. In so doing, the artist's developed a unique style, indigenous, distinctive, graphic, with a rare potential for narrative and an innate primitive beauty. By the very act of depicting legends, the artists defied centuries of taboos, and many interesting sociological events followed: a shift in the roles of shaman /artist/ hunter occurred in the Anishnabe culture; the art became a seminal force in a revitalization movement; and the entire Ojibway Nation, a people heretofore overlooked by the mainstream of history, was thrust suddenly into the spotlight glare of an art-loving public."
Mary E. (Beth) Southcott
"How was it possible for this youth to reach back to the old feelings, to conceive the images that would bear the unmistakable stamp of his people? How could this firm pride originate in a community relegated to the status of third class citizens, constantly reminded of this status and defeated by it? What was there about this lad that earned for him in a medicine woman's dream the combined names of a powerful spirit and the metal traditionally sacred to the Lake Superior Ojibway- Copper Thunderbird?"
"...Norval, with his incredible ability with the formal problems of art (colour-design-space) and his commitment to the world of his people, the great Ojibway, give one the sense of power that only genius provides... It is sufficient to say that in the history of Canadian Painting, few have, and will remain giants. Norval shall."
"Morrisseau, the artist, is a teller of tales. But tales such as these are only as powerful as the power of the person who tells them. Behind the visual imagery lies the power of his personal recital of a legend. Behind the legend lies the personal vision that explains everything. It may be difficult to distinguish Ojibway mythic elements from personal ones, or to separate Indian versions of Catholic iconography from Morrisseau's own set of emblems. He is at his most Indian when he offers an explanation of what he is doing. The purpose of doing it may have been to share with the world a heritage of the Great Ojibway that is proud and full of worth. The reason for doing it is very Indian. Where other artists might claim logic, tradition or authority as justification, Morrisseau always justifies himself by the most Indian of all explanations: the imperative of a personal, unique and private vision, the only real consistency which lies at the back of all his work. Everything, ultimately, is validated by Morrisseau's unanswerable claim to be responding to the demands of that personal, unique and private vision."
"Morrisseau's genius for unifying or braking space in his designs is astonishing, as sureness of line. It cannot be classed as primitive art, because both the ideas and the expression evince cultivated thought. As this mysticism has never been recorded he is breaking new ground."
"Norval Morrisseau stands alone in his formal innovation and largeness of personal vision. He was the first Indian to study seriously and to update his own cultural beliefs and translate them visually for contemporary Indian and non-Indian audiences. In doing so he became the first Indian to break through the Canadian professional white-art barrier. His brilliance lies in his ability to break away from his own conventions, to constantly renew his vision."
"He blazed a path that many young artists followed. He was a great role model for younger artists. His courage, in confronting the oppression, the attempt by government policy which began in the 19th century to silence and hasten the end of traditional indigenous knowledge, it took great courage to confront that. He was an extraordinary man."
"He is one of the greatest painters Canada has ever produced. One day we were looking at the Group of Seven and he commented 'They paint trees, I paint loons and they connect to the sky'". -
"Norval, like all innovators, had made a trajectory to contemporary cultural theory, an idea I was not to understand until quite recently. It situated Norval at the centre of a cultural transformation, contemporary Ojibwa art. This legendary artist had created a visual language whose lineage included the ancient shaman artists of the Midiwewin scrolls, the Agawa Bay rock paintings and the Peterborough petroglyphs. As a master narrator, he had a voice that thundered like the sentinel of a people still listening to the stories told since creation." -
"I believe that when Canada 'disappears', Morrisseau will remain. I believe history will note that Norval Morrisseau will be better known than Pablo Picasso. He's more original." -
''He was a role model, visionary and seminal force throughout Native America and Canada. We were especially fortunate to have the great man himself present at the opening of his major retrospective, 'Norval Morrisseau: Shaman Artist,' at our New York City museum. Through his groundbreaking and vibrant works, he positioned his rich indigenous heritage squarely within modern art; a revolutionary and uplifting achievement that influences contemporary culture through today.'" -
"Norval Morrisseau's most significant and enduring achievement will be measured over generations as the lasting impact of his greatest ambition - to instill pride - makes itself felt in the art of new artists compelled to create by his masterful paintings." -
Greg A. Hill
"Their great appeal partly derives from Mr. Morrisseau's marrying of an understanding of Indian spirituality with his own formal ambitions as a painter... New York has many museums with countless exhibitions, but it's been a long time since I saw a show of such potent spirituality, warmth and feeling."
Norval Morrisseau's courageous and often controversial approach to his work was instrumental in encouraging First Nations people to know their spirituality, history and culture in order to better understand themselves. He taught us to be proud of who we are. He inspired countless other First Nations people to pursue a career in the arts. His legacy will remain with us and continue to inspire all Canadians for many generations to come."-
"Morrisseau was committed, from the very start, to preserving the stories and myths of his people. He never wavered. As troubled as his life was, he also went through it with this incredible sense of mission."
He was a courageous Aboriginal painter who, through perseverance and faith in his gift, was able to break through enormous cultural and racial barriers to bring his art not just to Canada, but to the world."
"He has been described as perhaps the greatest native artist who ever lived - a primal visionary who gave form to the Ojibway legends and myths told to him by his maternal grandfather Moses "Potan" Nanakonagos."