Norval Morisseau

My first encounter with Norval Morrisseau, with one of his paintings, but it was as if I’d met him, was at an auction where the poor sell off their misery. I knew nothing about the great Indigenous painter when I saw that canvas, folded on the ground, the frame in pieces, as if the work itself had been subjected to torture. In profile, a figure lifting a drum, or perhaps the drum lifted itself in the mingled light of dawn and dusk, like the moon or a veiled sun. A black line etched the outline of this seated figure whose body was filled with a landscape hinted at by a few tiny faraway trees. The moment I unfolded this paining, I felt the suspension of time contained in the painting. It never left me. We find in all his work a black line reminiscent of the lead of the stained glass windows whose light had dazzled him in the church he attended while imprisoned. This line is less thick and primitive than in Georges Rouault’s work, but it is extended into tips that call to mind roots. He wanted to break down the barriers between the White world and his own; I hope if one day his spirit visits the Museum of Outsider Contemporary Art, he will be happy to see his drummer lying opposite Daniel Erban’s hanged men, overlooking the sculptures of Barnabus Arnasungaaq, illuminated by the light from the stained glass windows of the church in which the museum is housed. He used to say that his paintings conceal shamanic medicine and perhaps it is passing time that he heals in us by keeping present in the beliefs of his people.

Patrick Cady