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The National Gallery of Canada’s first major solo exhibition
of a First Nations artist pays homage to Norval Morrisseau. The Anishnaabe (Ojibwa)
painter’s sublimely colourful and deeply spiritual works have inspired three generations of
First Nations artists and made him an icon of Canadian art.
Norval Morrisseau, also called Copper Thunderbird, rose to fame in the 1960s as the originator
of the Woodland School. This unique style is now simply called Anishnaabe painting,
a term that refers to the artist’s heritage and the archetypal status of his work.
This exhibition features 60 vibrant works, from evocations of ancient symbolic etchings on
sacred birchbark scrolls and pictographic renderings of spiritual creatures, to more recent
works that are celebrations of pure colour. Morrisseau reveals something of the soul of
humanity through colour and his unique “X-ray” style of imaging: Sinewy black “spirit” lines
emanate, surround, and link animal and human figures, and skeletal elements and internal
organs are visible within their brightly coloured segments.