Norval Morrisseau: Shaman Artist – at the Smithsonian (2007)

NORVAL MORRISSEAU: SHAMAN ARTIST
at the Smithsonian (2007)

‘NORVAL MORRISSEAU: SHAMAN ARTIST’ Using watercolor and ink on slabs of birch bark or buffalo hide, and later acrylic paint on paper and canvas, the Anishinaabe Indian artist Norval Morrisseau, from Canada, produced some of the most original contemporary Indian art of the 20th century. The retrospective at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is a handy reminder of the genius of Mr. Morrisseau, who died earlier this month. (He was thought to be 75.)

More than 50 paintings and drawings spanning his career have been assembled by Greg A. Hill, a curator at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. One highlight is the monumental, six-panel “Man Changing Into Thunderbird” (1977), a colorful narrative painting referencing spiritual transformation, creation stories, shamanistic practices and a pantheon of religious figures, cultural heroes and celebrated ancestors. Linear and graphic imagery of animals, plants and spirits dominates the rest of the work in the show, but rarely are the paintings repetitive or formulaic. Their great appeal partly derives from Mr. Morrisseau’s marrying of an understanding of Indian spirituality with his own formal ambitions as a painter. But he is also a gifted colorist who somehow manages to combine the most eye-popping hues: One painting is colored purple with lime green and bright yellow.


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.

Benjamin Genocchio
The New York Times
December 28, 2007