Friday, December 7, 2007

"Picasso of the North" Dies at 75

photo courtesy of Louie Palu

Canada mourns the death of one of its most treasured icons--Norval Morrisseau. Waging a long-time battle with Parkinson's disease, Morrisseau passed away on Tuesday after suffering from related health complications.

Morrisseau was a groundbreaking painter and Grand Shaman of the Anishinabe (Ojibwa) nation. As a self-taught artist, he revitalized Ojibwa iconography by creating the Woodlands art movement which showcases his culture's visual artistry. An honorary inductee into the Order of Canada and a recipient of the the eagle feather, the highest honor of the Assembly of First Nations, Morrisseau's critical acclaim reached far beyond national borders. In 1989, Paris' Museum of Modern Art showcased his work in the Magicians of the Earth exhibit, calling Morrisseau the "Picasso of the North."

But like many significant artists before him, Morrisseau's greatness was often eclipsed by his personal troubles. As a victim of Canada's residential school system, the future painter endured sexual abuse by a priest when he was a young boy. This painful experience led Morrisseau to drop out of school in the fourth grade to pursue work as a miner.

After a vision came to him in a dream, Morrisseau turned to a canvas and paintbrush for self-expression in 1959. Three years later, the Anishinabe artist was putting on his breakthrough art exhibition at Jack Pollock's gallery. And that's when the people had spoken. Each of Morrisseau's featured pieces sold-out within 24 hours of the show's opening.

And as his artistic vision began to take Canada by storm, Morrisseau's personal demons began taking on a life of their own. Before long, he began his dark descent into addiction and eventually homelessness. Morrisseau started shaking hands with devil by trading his valuable paintings with a Toronto mobster in exchange for cocaine and booze, and soon began wondering self-destructively through both Canada and the States. Sadly, the painter finally hit rock bottom on the streets of Vancouver.

And as fate will have, this is also when Morrisseau's life began to change...for the better.

He met a street kid named Gabor Vidas and together, they became each other's crutch. Once they got off the streets, Morrisseau jumped on the wagon and even took Vidas under his wing as his adopted son.

So like the triumphant phoenix, Morrisseau re-emerged--amidst experiences of abuse, addiction, and self destruction--as one of the greatest artists of his time. Needless to say, Canada will miss him.

Morrisseau's Bio
CBC Story on Morrisseau
Collection of Morrisseau's paintings


Anonymous said...

For More info on Norval Morrisseau go to:

Thank you for honourig this great human being.

Anonymous said...

For honest information about Norval Morrisseau and his art, please visit:

You should know that not all Morrisseau images are genuine.

Raven Thunderbird

Anonymous said...


You have posted my copyrighted photograph of Norval Morriseau on your site without permission.

Please, at least credit the photo.


Louie Palu

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