NORVAL H. MORRISSEAU, R.C.A.
Private Collection, Stouffville, ON
Copper Thunderbird (1931 – 2007) was born Norval Morrisseau on Sandy Point Reserve, Ontario. Founder of the Woodland School of Art and a prominent member of the Professional Native Artists Inc. (PNAI) he is considered the Mishomis (grandfather) of contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada.
In this painting, Copper Thunderbird/Norval Morrisseau stands alert, eyes wide open. Concentric rings of chroma surround his body and mirror his pupils. He is looking into an astral plane and letting the vision run through him. To him, astral planes contained the spirits that guided him through his creation. Spirituality was integral to Thunderbird’s understanding of himself. He was raised by his Ojibwe grandfather and Catholic mother and as an adult, embraced Eckankar beliefs. Each belief system informed the material of his work – however, he defined himself as his own master, and found a voice that only he could claim.
Cause and Effect describes the artist’s relationship to the spirit world: Thunderbird paints himself in astral form, wherein he embodies the very energies that incite him to paint. The effect is this wonderful vision. Blue, a color he aligned with spiritual guardians, fills the painting, as blood red and earthy greens ground his body. Yellow is especially bright in this environment. Thunderbird’s hands and the top of his headdress curl towards the sphere before his face.
As Morrisseau gained notoriety, his identity as Indigenous and as an artist were pegged against each other by the racism of the day, however, the outstanding quality of his work fought against systemic racist stereotypes, which had hitherto categorized Indigenous artwork as souvenirs and artifact. Morrisseau made it his role to educate Canadians about Indigenous art and culture, whilst supporting the artistic development of indigenous emerging artists.