Canada lost a living legend December 4 with the death of celebrated Anishinaabe Shaman painter Norval Morrisseau, aka Copper Thunderbird. Dubbed “the Picasso of the North,” Morrisseau died in Toronto at the age of 75 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Morrisseau’s work was characterized by heavy black lines and vibrant colours. His pieces chronicled his people’s legends, political tensions, spirituality and mysticism. He is considered to be one of the founding members of a new art movement, being the first aboriginal to break into the professional art market in Canada.
Born March 14, 1932 on the Sand Point Ojibway reserve near Beardmore, Ontario, Morrisseau’s work first began to rise in popularity in the early 1960s when Toronto art dealer Jack Pollock organized an exhibition of his work at his Toronto gallery.
His star began to rise when he was commissioned for a large mural in the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo 67 that depicted the social and political dissatisfaction of the First Nations People of Canada.
Morrisseau was awarded the Order of Canada in 1978 and in 1979 he founded the Thunderbird School of Shamanistic Arts.
A retrospective of his works that featured over 60 original Morrisseau pieces was put on from 2005-2006 at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, blazing the trail for yet more aboriginal artists as this was the first time that the Gallery dedicated a solo exposition to a Native artist.
In November Morrisseau was named to receive a lifetime achievement award through the 2008 National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. He will most likely still receive the award posthumously.