Norval Morrisseau and the Emergence of the Image Makers
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.
The image-makers are the Cree and Ojibway artists of northwestern Ontario. In 1962 Norval Morrisseau exhibited his paintings at the Pollack Gallery in Toronto and attracted the favour of art collectors and critics. He has since influenced a younger generation of about 75 native artists, including the six profiled here. The Art Gallery of Ontario catalogue complements a 1984 touring exhibition. The two essays establish a cultural and political context for Woodland Indian art.
Tom Hill, the Director of the Woodland Cultural Regional Centre in Brantford, surveys the history of Indian art in Canada from the ceremonial art of medicine and religion, suppressed by government policy, through the commercialization of the arts and crafts movement, to the “new art” that emerged along with the official promotion of a Canadian cultural identity and the market acceptance of unspoilt “primitiveness.”
Elizabeth McLuhan, the Curator of the Thunder Bay National Exhibition Centre, celebrates each Ojibway and Cree artist as an individual creator. The style and content evolve in time, often becoming more subjective as social and political concerns are addressed. Morrisseau, who created the distinctive Woodland pictographic style, is imbued with the traditional knowledge; he understands the symbols of the ancient rock paintings and the Midewiwin bark scrolls. When he became the image-maker, the exponent of the new art, his individual creative expression transcended the ritual purposes of traditional Ojibwa imagery. As some of the younger artists lose contact with the elders’ teachings, their style may be reduced to a repertoire of conventions.
McLuhan’s essay provides a lucid commentary on each of the illustrated works of art. The seventeen plates evoke the rich primary colours of the originals — the glowing yellows, reds, and blues. There are 70 black-and-white photographs. The appendix includes the profiled artists’ exhibitions and major commissions and an extensive bibliography of books and journal articles. The catalogue is a pioneer effort designed to provide a full-length critical appreciation of the Woodland school.