Norval Morrisseau


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Canadian painter of native Canadian origin. Born in Northern Ontario as Jean-Baptiste Norman Henry Morrisseau and from the Anishaabe Ojibwa nation, he was also known by his spirit name of ‘Copper Thunderbird’. He took up painting while recovering in a TB clinic. His first Toronto exhibition in 1962 was an instant sell-out and in 1967 he painted a mural for Expo 67 at Montreal. His paintings were brilliantly coloured and drew on the spiritual imagery which had been repressed by Catholic missionaries. His work was an inspiration to a group of painters known as the Woodland School. In 2006 he became the first native Canadian to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. In spite of the success and acclaim he achieved, much of his life was spent battling with alcohol and drug addiction. In the 1980s he was living on the streets of Vancouver selling his pictures for drink and, allegedly, cocaine. In the 1990s, however, he managed to conquer his addiction and painted prolifically until struck down by Parkinson's disease. He once told an interviewer why he lived and painted. It was ‘To heal you guys who're more screwed up than I am. How can I heal you? With colour. These are the colours you dreamt about one night.’

Further Reading

G. A. Hill, ‘Norval Morrisseau’, The Guardian (10 April 2008)R. Kennedy, ‘Norval Morrisseau, Native Canadian Artist is Dead’, New York Times (8 December 2007)

Subjects: Art.

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