Untitled (Shaman), c. 1971
Norval (called Copper Thunderbird) Morrisseau
acrylic on paper, mounted on hardboard
130.7 x 89.7 cm
Gift of Audrey and Gary Kilpatrick, Rainy River, Ontario, 2000
National Gallery of Canada (no. 40532)
Copyright Norval Morrisseau / Gabe Vadas. Courtesy of Kinsman Robinson Galleries, Toronto.
An example of Morrisseau’s early exploration of shamanistic themes that continue from this point into his later works, the evolution of colour here is significant. The colours are bold, powerful, forceful – perhaps indicative of how Morrisseau sees himself and his grandfather in their roles as shamans to the Anishinabek. Note that the shaman carries a medicine stick and has a headpiece similar to those that appear in later works on the same theme. He also wears a beaded collar, armbands, and a medicine pouch. The colours in this painting are transitional, lying somewhere between the earthy and sometimes monochromatic hues of his early work, and the neon fields of intense colour that emanate from his more recent paintings. It is interesting that in this piece, the figure itself is heavily painted, while the background is left the colour of the paper it is painted upon. This is reminiscent of Morrisseau’s earlier practice of painting on birch bark and plywood, where the backgrounds are left unpainted and the grain of the wood or bark becomes part of the aesthetic of the work.