Posts tagged ‘Norval Morrisseau’

A Day at the AGO

spent a glorious morning and much of the afternoon at the Art Gallery of Ontario, November 21, 2017, going for one reason only:  to see Norval Morrisseau’s 6 panel “Man Changing Into a Thunderbird”, acrylic on canvas, 1977.  last time i saw it was at the National Gallery of Canada, 2006, and the time before that, in the book: The Art of Norval Morrisseau, 1979.  of course the book, filled with colour plates, is one thing, seeing the actual, is completely another.

so off i went on the Go Train to Union Station, subway to Yonge and Dundas, and on foot to the gallery.  without fussing with the collection i asked the lady at the front to walk me to the room where the Morrisseau paintings were hanging.

it’s an awesome thing for this Anishnabe boy to see these giant paintings:  Norval M. IS the founder of the Ojibwe Woodland School of Painting and the making of Man Changing Into a Thunderbird is a classic rock and roll story about art and art making.  my question, after viewing the work for a few hours yesterday, is:  What brand of acrylic paint did N.M. use to create this work?

pretty soon a class of high school students were brought in with the “native interpreter”, a very Indian dude about my age, sporting a long braid.  so i thought i’d stand back and listen to him make the pitch with him asking these kids, who he’d obviously lost by this point in time, why is this art work important?  boy oh boy he was plum off the map!  he wasn’t even in the ball park!  it’s pretty clear he hadn’t done his homework on this one.


here is a photo with some kids in the shot, to give you some idea how big these paintings are.

after a few hours with the pieces i decided to boo through the rest of the gallery and see what they had.  it wasn’t long before i heard Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies:

(i’ve never been to Paris so this is pretty much “Once Upon A Time in Tehkummah” for me, switch out the beautiful Edouard Cortes paintings for some “range scenes”)

i thought i was hearing a soundtrack for an installation so i followed the sounds and found myself at the entrance to Guillermo, “Del Toro: At Home With Monsters”, an exhibition of his collections, films and notebooks.


“Del Toro: At Home With Monsters”


“At Home With Monsters”


“At Home With Monsters”  (how would you like to have that thing sitting in the living room, over the fireplace, when the power goes out…  )


“At Home With Monsters”  (is that Edgar Allan, giving you know who, a reading?)(those windows were live:  they had the thunder going, the rain on the glass, the trees moving with the breeze:  ultra spooky!)


“At Home With Monsters”  (hmmm…  )

so anyway:  i’m walking around in there, eyes wide open, ears too because i’m hearing some of my favourite solo piano music and check this out:

WOW!  there is the source of the music:  a young and spooky looking whippersnapper on a black baby grand!  mega WOW!  i LOVE the music but i love it even more when i see it happening right there in front of me!  now hey, that really made my day, right there.  and so i stayed on, enjoyed the beautiful sounds coming up and out of that baby grand.  nice work!  and i said so, to the kid.

well you can’t have too much art in one day.  so i’ll come back tomorrow with Chapter 2:  Mark’s Day at the AGO.

Norval Morrisseau, Man Changing Into a Thunderbird

I purchased the book, by Armand Garnet Ruffo, over there at the Chapters Pinecrest, Ottawa, on Sunday afternoon while waiting for the boys to gather  at the acoustic jam, happening at the kook show attached to the West Park Lanes on Wellington St. W.  I’d seen the book at the Chapters in Sudbury but it had seen a lot of action, a lot of folks had been thumbing through it and personally, when I’m buying books, usually I like them brand spanking new.  The copy at Pinecrest was jammed in with other art books on the bottom shelf, in the art section.  When I yanked it loose it was obvious this copy came right out of the box.  No one had looked at it.

Of course when I was going to art school all those years ago, in year two I took the “creative” route instead of going the “graphic” route.  And in the creative show, they had us in the painting classes, jumping through various hoops which of course I hated.  I had a buddy there who also hated it.  He hated it so much that he quit!

Well anyway, me being the one and only Indian in the outfit, I was given the book:  The Art of Norval Morrisseau (Methuen, 1979) to boo through in hopes it would give me some direction.  If the story is right, I think what happened was I opened the big book filled with colour plates, directly to:  Man Changing Into a Thunderbird, Norval’s 6 panel jumbo masterpiece from 1977.

Me being the assimilated Indian, version 1985, stripped clean of language, culture, religion, and pow wow who haa, I looked at the 6 wild images like a mutt riding the tour bus through the zoo.  I had no idea what I was looking at.

So I tried my hand and paint at doing my own version of Ojibwe Woodland Art.  Of course I didn’t grow up knowing any of the old legends, local stories nor heard basic and general, light and daily Ojibwe hubbub conversation.

Flash forward 30 years: I’m alone in the city, snooping the war section first, in Chapters, and then the art section second, and there it is, and truly, brand new.

Now of course I’ve been a fan of the wild Ojibwe Woodland School of Art History and I’d seen a few things over the past 30 years:  The national news story about Morrisseau being a drunk on the streets of Vancouver, the Ottawa Citizen when the scam about “the fakes” hit the front pages, and so on and so forth.  Of course I’d been into the National Gallery of Canada to boo through the Morrisseau solo show, “Shaman Artist”, in and around 2006.  Ah yes, I remember it well, going to the National Gallery, paying my entrance fee and blazing through the exhibit to the room where Man Changing Into a Thunderbird, was hanging.  I spent around 3 hours in there looking at those 6 panels, up close and personal.  I remember too other gallery goers staring at me: Obviously Indian, long black hair hanging down, black leather jacket, bone choker, skin tight clothes, 6 inch heels, a professional and definitely alone.

What struck me about those huge paintings, seeing them live, right there in the National Gallery, and knowing the story, is how N.M. managed to finish those last 2 panels the night before the show opened…

After reading A.G.’s book filled with horror stories of debauched alcoholic excess, hotel room fires, mega cash going who knows where, and the abandoning of his wife and 7 kids, I’m left asking myself…  how does a man who carries himself like this, manage to create such grand and beautiful pictures that go all the way to the National Gallery of Canada and beyond?

And is this kind of behaviour indicative of the title of “Grand Shaman”?

Wow!  I guess I missed quite a few things by going through the 60’s Scoop!


An interesting read, with some creative non fiction I’m sure!  Worth a peek if you’re into that indio stuff.