The Merman (1968) Norval Morrisseau

The Merman
Norval Morrisseau
Gouache on paper, 78” x 32”, 1968

Morrisseau, the artist, is a teller of tales. But tales such as these are only as powerful as the power of the person who tells them. Behind the visual imagery lies the power of his personal recital of a legend. Behind the legend lies the personal vision that explains everything. It may be difficult to distinguish Ojibway mythic elements from personal ones, or to separate Indian versions of Catholic iconography from Morrisseau’s own set of emblems. He is at his most Indian when he offers an explanation of what he is doing. The purpose of doing it may have been to share with the world a heritage of the Great Ojibway that is proud and full of worth. The reason for doing it is very Indian. Where other artists might claim logic, tradition or authority as justification, Morrisseau always justifies himself by the most Indian of all explanations: the imperative of a personal, unique and private vision, the only real consistency which lies at the back of all his work. Everything, ultimately, is validated by Morrisseau’s unanswerable claim to be responding to the demands of that personal, unique and private vision.

Lister Sinclair