Canadian Fine Art
November 13 — 18, 2021
Auction begins to close at 7:00 pm ET
NORVAL H. MORRISSEAU, R.C.A. Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)
Private Collection, Calgary, AB
Prolific and self-taught painter Norval Morrisseau has become cemented in Canadian Art History as one of the founding members of the Indian Group of Seven as well as for being a champion of Indigenous arts at a time when Residential Schools and government policy were attempting to destroy Indigenous traditions and culture.
Hailing from Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek, Morrisseau grew up around Lake Superior and was well versed in the stories of the massive underwater serpents that live in the great lakes and take down ships and people without a thought. This familiarity comes through in the artist's work as water spirits and serpents show up regularly in his paintings, speaking to an oral history that runs as deep as the Great Lake itself.
This familiarity comes through in many of Morrisseau’s works that speak directly to the stories and histories he grew up around. The use of an explicit Indigenous aesthetic and worldview have left Morrisseau as one of the most important Indigenous artists in contemporary art history, creating works that assert a knowledge that has been shared, upheld and celebrated by many Indigenous artists since.
In this painting we see Morrisseau once again return to his water serpents, here presented in a rich acrylic on board. The serpent's large frame and frightening features take up the body of the canvas, powerfully demanding the authority and attention of the viewer, much like they would in Anishinaabe stories. Morrisseau’s respect and admiration for these large beasts is clear in the ways he details the serpent with webbed toes, large teeth and jarring multi-coloured eyes. By giving us a view into the belly of the beast, we are shown there are more to these spirits than meets the eye. An interwoven world within an already hidden life, which aesthetically connects to the orbs that circle the serpent, showing the spiritual power these animals have for Great Lakes Anishinaabe people.
Emma Steen is a freelance curator and writer, as well as the Community Relations Manager for the Indigenous Curatorial Collective. Her area of interest lies in art that explores bodies, sex and love with anti-colonial intention.
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