When Art Transcends Controversy: the Norval Morrisseau Legacy

Even in death, the saga of legendary Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau has been embroiled in dispute.

It began shortly after he died in December of 2007, when his seven children battled with his former handler and business manager to have his remains buried next to their mother in Keewaywin, Ontario instead of cremated. Now, his children are filing a lawsuit against the same man — Gabor Michael Vadas — over the execution of his will. They believe the will was created under suspicious circumstances given Morrisseau’s weak physical and mental state in the years up to his death and they want the rights to his name and images.

While it ultimately makes sense for his family to preserve his artistic and cultural legacy, Morrisseau’s art itself continues to shine immortal despite these controversies. Even in an often troubled life, his paintings captured Anishinaabe traditions in a truly unique way that we will continue to learn from for generations to come.

image courtesy www.morrisseau.com

Most Canadians are familiar with his incomparable images. What started as more rustic and stripped-down interpretations of Anishinaabe life and culture blossomed into vibrant, epic pieces that are as just as recognizable to people who aren’t art aficionados. He created not only trademark shapes and images, but also expressive narratives. He could tell a story in a painting few artists can – from the creation story to showing the coexistence of all beings on Mother Earth to the lessons one learns in becoming a shaman. He shot to fame in the 1960s as the “Picasso of the North”, touring Europe with members of the “Indian Group of Seven” and being regaled in his home country as a genius. But with that came the stereotypical downfalls of fame – drug and alcohol abuse, blown fortunes, and brief jail time.

Through all of this, Morrisseau’s art and dedication to telling his people’s stories persevered. People in the arts community from coast to coast have stories about him. There are the legends of him sketching original pieces on bar napkins and tables to pay his tab. Countless imitators have emerged over the years, many of whom have been outed as impostors and scam artists. Because of his grand scope and geographic reach, there are also tales of hidden caches of original paintings yet to be found. He painted until he was no longer physically able to. And in 2006, he was honoured as the first Aboriginal artist to be solely exhibited in the National Art Gallery of Canada. Because of this monumental artistic and cultural legacy, it’s no wonder his children want to make sure it’s maintained properly. And as long as we can all see his work, he’ll always be one of the most important Aboriginal figures this continent has ever known.

*UPDATE: a reader identified the painting originally embedded in this post as a fake. We’ve changed it.

5 thoughts on “When Art Transcends Controversy: the Norval Morrisseau Legacy

  1. The painting you have published in your article is a fake. If you respect Norval Morrisseau you will respect the fact that he went to the police, the press, lawyers and anyone who would listen for the last eight years of his life in en effort at ending the proliferation of fakes produced primarily by members of his estranged family, including those now suing the Morrisseau estate. Read about the issue at Morrisseau.com and go to the authentic gallery and choose a genuine Morrisseau for your post.

    Stardreamer
    Protege of Norval Morrisseau

  2. The painting you have published in your article is a fake. If you respect Norval Morrisseau you will respect the fact that he went to the police, the press, lawyers and anyone who would listen for the last eight years of his life in en effort at ending the proliferation of fakes produced primarily by members of his estranged family, including those now suing the Morrisseau estate. Read about the issue at Morrisseau.com and go to the authentic gallery and choose a genuine Morrisseau for your post.

    Stardreamer
    Protege of Norval Morrisseau

  3. I just want to thank you for doing the right thing and removing the fake. Norval Morrisseau artwork is studied by public school children nationwide. As publishers we are also guides to the youth. Thanks for doing your part.

    Stardreamer

  4. Do not pay any attention to what “Stardreamer” says. He is none other than the now infamous Ritchie Sinclair. He was not a protege of Norval, but rather a male prostitute living on the streets of Toronto that was a brief sexual partner of Morrisseau. He is instrumental in defaming Morrisseau’s legacy and claiming thousands of his paintings are fakes when they have been scientifically and forensically proven to be authentic. He was colluding with the owners of Kinsmen Robertson Galleries in Toronto and Gabe Vadas, among others, in order to discredit competing galleries and corner the market on Morrisseau’s work. His name “Stardreamer” is self-appointed and he is a white man trying to take advantage of a Canadian legend’s legacy. Norval Morrisseau was in such bad condition from the mid-90’s until the end of his life that he was unable to even speak coherently. When Ritchie Sinclair claims Morrisseau went to the police, press, etc in regards to the proliferation of fake paintings, it was in fact Gabe Vadas and Ritchie himself who did all of this on behalf of Norval, to their own benefit. He is not to be trusted and his allegations that there are thousands of fakes have NEVER ONCE been proven by anyone other than himself and his own personal beliefs, which only benefit him and his cronies at Kinsmen Robertson and the lawyers who benefit financially from these lawsuits. Do a little bit of research before meeting the demands of a fraudulent and, quite frankly, a stupid and horrible man. He does nothing to honour Morrisseau who is a Canadian legend and who should be considered one of this country’s most important artists. Rant over.

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