Morrisseau, 'Picasso of the North,' dead at 75
Published Tuesday, December 4, 2007 9:41PM EST
Iconic Canadian artist Norval Morrisseau, the "Picasso of the North," has died at the age of 75 in a Toronto hospital. The Ojibwa painter helped originate the Anishnaabe School of Art.
He had struggled with Parkinson's disease for several years.
Morrisseau, who signed his works under the name of Miskwaabik Animiki ("Copper Thunderbird"), was a member of the Order of Canada -- the highest civilian honour in the country.
He inspired generations of First Nations artists and his pictographic style was imitated by many, and he actively sought to teach others about his craft.
"I've always wanted to be a role model," he once told the Toronto Star.
"I've always wanted to stay an Indian. I wanted the little kids to know that."
In 1989, Morrisseau was the only Canadian painter invited to display his art at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, to coincide with the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
He recently received a 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.
Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Morrisseau was a key figure in bringing international attention to Canada's native artists.
"Norval was probably best known for inventing the Woodlands style of art. His success did not come without a price. He faced many personal struggles over the years. We are very grateful for his contributions to First Nations, Canada and the world," he said in a statement.
"Norval Morrisseau was the key figure at the centre of an Indigenous art movement in Canada in the 1960s that broke through stereotypes, racism and discrimination in that era. He struggled to have his art shown in fine art galleries. And he succeeded.
"His work has been on display in the most prestigious museums in Canada and around the world. It was a tremendous breakthrough when his art was featured prominently at Expo '67 in Montreal as part of the 'Indian" pavilion.'"
At a 2006 exhibit of Morrisseau's work at the National Gallery in Ottawa, his son took pride in the artist's singular vision.
"I think what impresses me most is his designs, his colours, his pallet -- the way he puts everything together," said Gabor Vadas. "I don't know any other artist like him."