The Ancestor by Norval Morrisseau

Acrylic on Paper
61.5 × 31.5 inches
156.2 × 80 cm
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About the Work

This is a three-quarter length portrait on paper of a cloaked and bearded man that fills the vertical picture plane. Depicted in a "pictographic" style, the artist has used black outline to create the head in profile and the dress of the front facing body that is further articulated in a variety of shapes. The shapes are filled in with solid bright colors -- bright yellow, ochre, mauve, red, lime yellow and sapphire blue. Morrisseau was known for his pictographic style with which he interpreted the stories and culture of his people, the Anishinaabe. At age six, Morrisseau was sent to a Catholic residential school where Indigenous culture and language were repressed. After two years, he returned home and began to learn about his people from his shaman grandfather and to study and eventually to paint. Inspired by the petroglyphs - images of animals, humans and symbols incised on rocks by early Indigenous people in Ontario - Morrisseau created a pictographic style of flattened shapes, dark outlines and the use of profile in his paintings. In the 1960s, Morrisseau began to exhibit in Toronto with dealer Jack Pollock. A documentary film soon followed and commercial success. Morrisseau was the inspiration for the Woodland School, a group of Indigenous artists who adopted and expanded the artist's style. In 1978, he was appointed Member, Order of Canada, and was elected Member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. His work is in the collections of many Canadian museums including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the McMichael Canadian Collection and the Royal Ontario Museum.

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