Observations of the Astral World, c. 1994
Norval (called Copper Thunderbird) Morrisseau
acrylic on canvas
236 x 514 x 4 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 41338)
Copyright Norval Morrisseau / Gabe Vadas. Courtesy of Kinsman Robinson Galleries, Toronto.
Evoking a relationship between Anishnaabe cosmology, shamanistic symbolism, and teachings from Eckankar, the religion Morrisseau joined in the mid-seventies that combines Eastern and Christian spirituality, Anishnaabe cultural manifestations in this work may be seen in relation to some of the ideas given expression in Eckankar, most notably the concept of Eck current, that is believed to connect all living things.
The basic symmetry of the composition is enriched through the subtle alteration of colour and division of space. A shaman, in the process of transforming into a thunderbird, is the principal figure on the right side of the picture. Traversing the various zones, or realms, we see a school of fish, who act as symbols for the underworld spirits, there to provide balance to the spiritual realm inhabited by the shaman. The group of human beings represent human interrelationships, but they can also be understood as symbols of the interaction possible with the spirit world.