Sunday 25 July 2010

Norval Morrisseau's legacy (2007) Blake Debassige speaks

Manitoulan Newspaper picture showing a prone Norval Morrisseau
propped up beside forger BLAIR Debassige in front of a fake painting.

An excerpt from
Norval Morrisseau's legacy
His influence on Island artists is profound

Woodland School Artist in good standing, Blake Debassige speaks. BLAKE, is a relative of artist, BLAIR Debassige (pictured above). BLAIR profiteers off of fake Morrisseau paintings.

"It was really sad to see him being paraded around in a wheelchair," Mr. Debassige said. "It will be better now that he doesn't have to suffer from this illness anymore. It was sad to see that such a great man was reduced to that."

Mr. Debassige describes Morrisseau as a quiet man, who spoke plainly and truthfully and was "just a nice man." It is perhaps because of his gentle, considerate nature that the fake Morrisseau paintings proliferating in the market in recent years are such an insult to his memory.

But Mr. Debassige is hopeful that one day the cataloguing of his works will stop the profiteering that results from the forgeries, and believes that Morrisseau will be remembered more for his trailblazing influence on the art world, inspiring more Aboriginal people in generations to come.

"I hope that he will be received and revered as the great artist he was, especially for Aboriginals," Mr. Debassige said. "He was a legend and an icon for Aboriginal artists, and we don't have a lot of people to look up to, whereas the white culture has so many."

Blake Debassige
From an article written by Lindsay Kelly
December 12, 2007
Manitoulin Expositor

I emailed Blake Debassige in 2008 about his cousin. Blair and about the Morrisseau forgery issue. Read Blake's response...and more.

I'd like to shed a little light on the issue of Norval's infamous 1999 visit to Manitoulin Island. I wasn't present for the purported "healing ceremony" that took place on Manitoulin, though I did spend considerable time with him in Toronto prior to his journey North. Norval and I spoke at length about his health issues at that time. We also made numerous visits to Dr. "Ari", who had been notable in assisting Norval in his battle with Parkinson's disease.

Norval Morrisseau was a very proud man. The thought that a Shamanic "healer" of his caliber would lose ground to any disease was just not acceptable to him. Surely, Spirit would find a way... or Dr. "Ari" would figure it all out, even if he couldn't. This was not to be however.

There is a time when one battles valiantly against dis-ease. There may also be times when one (in Norval's words...) "turns it over to Spirit". This 1999 trip was Norval's moment of turning it over. He was having trouble adjusting to his new medications. It seemed he could only stop shaking when he laid brush to paper. He was concerned and perhaps even afraid. He decided to place his bets on Spirit and on the ancient reputation of Manitoulin Island to save him from this evil that was attacking him.

I well remember seeing Norval (and Gabe) off. They drove North to a sacred Eagle feather ceremony and a desperately yearned for Spiritual healing. Instead my friends arrived to hoopla at the local cultural centre, attended by what seemed to be the entire community, to honor Norval.

Norval arrived to rooms saturated with fake Morrisseau paintings. He must have been shocked as he thought, "No one knows that these paintings are fakes!" It is my belief that Norval chose not to make a big fuss then. Perhaps his impression was that his hosts were both innocent and ignorant. Moreover, in his fragile state of mind, heart and body, "What was he to do about it?". Instead, perhaps he resigned himself to "letting it go" for the time being because he was there to focus on getting better, if it was at all possible. To me, Norval seemed emotionally stronger in 2006, seven years deeper into the disease, than he was at that moment in 1999.

Those with a vested interest in selling forgeries have put great credence to a number of photos taken then by Karen Debassige, wife of Blair Debassige. The photos have been used to provide unwarrented credit to fake paintings simply because they propped Norval up with various people to pose in front of them. In the image below I have gathered each picture of Norval from Karen Debassige's suite of photos. As one who knows Norval it is obvious to me that he was feeling very sick, tired, scared, worn out, and not happy at all with the situation. In the only picture out of more than a dozen where he almost appears to smile, his eyes clearly frown. The Norval I see is clearly upset.

Norval also believed that he at least was "normal" when painting, and continued to be proud of the fact that he would shake less when painting. In this picture you can see Norval painting authentic "Morrisseaus" in 1999 at Blair and Karen Debassige's studio. On the wall behind you can see the muddy colour scheme of a fake Morrisseau that hangs on the Debassige wall.

Soon after leaving Manitoulin Norval was complimented on the large painting that he had been wheeled in front of at the Manitoulin Cultural Centre  Norval responded, "I didn't paint it". That was when Norval stopped forgiving unknown poor native artists and distant family members for copying and forging his artwork for a few quick bucks, and began doing something about it. It was his second awakening to the Ontario forgery problem

Eighteen month's later Norval fingered 23 Jim White paintings as outright fakes and went straight to the media about the forgery issue. Norval never stopped fighting the forgers until he finally passed away in Toronto on a cold winter's day in 2007. He was in Toronto at the time to meet with the RCMP and to appear in court to defend his rights against Joseph Otavnik, who sued him for speaking truth about fakes.



  1. Otavnik sued the artist because the said he didn't paint the works?
    That is SICK.

  2. Very interesting...thanks for clarifying Blake versus Blair. Those not familiar could make assumptions based on last name recognition!

    You say this was the second awakening of the fakes in Ontario problem. What was the first?

  3. Parkinsons only affects the body. Not the mind.