“My paintings are icons…they are images which help focus on spiritual powers, generated by traditional beliefs and wisdom.”
Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007) was a self-taught painter and deeply spiritual Ojibwa. He signed his paintings using the Cree spelling of ‘Copper Thunderbird’, a name given to him by a medicine women during a period of illness as a teenager.
Morrisseau’s work evokes the closeness between the human, animal and spiritual world, whilst referencing ancient symbolism and traditional knowledge. Yet, by choosing to paint sacred elements of the Ojibwa culture, he was criticised for displaying a lack of respect of past customs: oral tradition was the sacrosanct method of ensuring Ojibwa culture stayed alive.
Morrisseau was aware that due to a changing society, it was no longer possible for elders to preserve oral traditions. For him, painting presented a new medium to ensure past customs continued to be learned and taught. Accordingly, scenes of storytelling permitted oral traditions to survive in a revived way.
“I transmit astral plane harmonies through my brushes into the physical plan. These other-world colours are reflected in the alphabet of nature, a grammar in which the symbols are plants, animals, birds, fishes, earth and sky. I am merely a channel for the spirit to utilize and it is needed by a spiritually starved society.”