Artist Biography

Norval Morrisseau (“Copper Thunderbird”) (1932-2007) was a self-taught artist of the Ojibwa culture. He was born at Sand Point Reserve, northern Ontario. Morrisseau was raised by his grandfather, who introduced him at a young age to Ojibwa Shamanism and the traditional stories and legends of the Ojibwa people. In the 1960s, Morrisseau began painting images to illustrate these stories and from 1963 to 1966 became the first person to paint ancient myths and legends of the Eastern woodlands. His style became known as the Woodland or Pictographic style, commonly referred to as x-ray art because it featured a “mystic x-ray vision” where animal spirits (sometimes people) were shown with symbolic-patterned interiors, representing the powers held within. Throughout the 1960s, Morrisseau’s pictographic style grew in popularity, and by the 1970s artists painted exclusively in his genre.

Norval Morrisseau’s art draws upon Ojibwa Midewiwin Society birch bark scrolls, rock painting, and Ojibwa decorative arts. It reflects the ideals of Shamanism, the importance of family, the interconnectedness of all living things, and the tensions that exist between Aboriginal cultures and Christianity. He uses striking colour, strong flowing lines, and a childlike simplicity to convey his messages.

Norval Morrisseau’s works are part of Canadian and international public collections. Morrisseau is a member of the Order of Canada and of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. In 1989, he became the only Canadian painter invited to participate in the Magicians of the Earth exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, France, for the Bicentennial of the French Revolution.

Morrisseau died after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.