"Spirits of the Mountains" by Simone McLeod
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Norval's footsteps blazed a trail for us all
"When I began painting in the mid-nineties it was quite the experience to sit and feel a heavy heart at what I believed to be "revealing the ceremonial secrets of my people". It was then that I recalled hearing about Norval Morrisseau.
I remember that when I heard others speaking of him they always seemed to be focused on his subject and less on him as the growing father of the first nations art movement. I cannot imagine how alone and in turmoil he may have been in feeling this need to share the "old ways" publicly. Perhaps he was before his time in seeing that one day, media outlets would be thee best way to reach out and help our lost peoples recognize the spirituality of his work and therefore begin the stirrings to search within ourselves and find the spirit memory that has been our way since the sun first shone.
I as an artist and as an Anishinaabe woman, will be forever indebted to him for reawakening within me, my path, my memories, my history and my duty as a storyteller and artist and to carry on, on the road he started walking down. His footsteps blazed a trail that will be forever easier for the next one who chooses to follow it."
Meeting Ugo Matulic
My mother was very artistic when I was growing up. My sister just recently shared with me, how my mother sat us down at the table one day and proceeded to nurture the inner artists that she believed each of us was born with. I loved it from the beginning. I would watch my beautiful mother paint or sketch with pencil crayons the most beautiful images. She even took burned out embers from the wood stove and showed me how to use it as charcoals. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
Over the course of many years, as we all grew older, I watched as we all struggled with the aftermath of the residential school era. It did not matter if we went to the schools or not for the schools had a way of reaching into our homes to choke our culture out of us and replace it with just trying to survive.
It's this survival technique that I recognize in my peoples artwork immediately. I know where it stems from and I feel it reaching inside me as it demands recognition. I'm no longer only an artist, I've become one who can understand and feel in art, things a lot of others can only see.
I reflect back now to a time two years ago when I met Ugo Matulić for coffee. I didn't know anything about him and I'm glad for that. The reason is simple. To listen to or indulge in idle gossip about others sets you up to not get a chance to see who a person really is.
He's turned out to be a very good and respectful friend. I've never met a person more open minded to learning and understanding aboriginal people as people first. His lack of preconceived notions and harsh judgments allows him to keep his mind and his heart opened to building strong and loyal relationships with others.
A few months ago I joined him in his condo in downtown Calgary. We talked a lot over the years about his love for First Nation Artists work and his fondness for Norval Morrisseau. Needless to say, as an artist myself, with my love for artists and the unique way each expresses his or herself through their chosen mediums, we've talked for many many many hours over many many many meetings.
As I entered his condo, my breath caught in my throat. The Morrisseau's on the walls enhanced by great lighting were so vibrant and so full of life. It was obvious to me that this man has a great deal of respect for Norval. It became more obvious his vast knowledge was gained through diligence and researching this great artists work as we sat and I got to see the true depth of his collection.
I had warned him that I like to touch the paintings and close my eyes and let my fingers take me back to when the pieces were being created. I think he knew that I would be very careful and I was extremely happy and honoured when he agreed that I can feel the textures of the paints.
As he rolled out canvas after canvas, I touched each piece carefully and could feel how Norval applied the paints. I could feel emotions building inside me as I could see each story hiding inside each piece. Big canvasses, medium canvasses, arches watercolour paintings, birch bark paintings, even very early works where inks or pencil crayons were applied to very old pages from primary school books.
I began to recognize the brush strokes, the similarities of application. The finger tip eyes, the deep need to lay down the colour without worry about the translucency of the paint. I recognized this the most because as an artist myself, I take great pains in reapplying coats until the colours are true and saturated.
What intrigued me the most was the early works on the primary papers leading into the birch bark paintings. It was a though he had his visions or spirit memory begin so early and fast that he just had to get these first images onto a medium, any medium so that he would not risk losing them by the act of living and surviving. I saw many variations of the earlier visions grow and transform into larger images on canvasses and other mediums later on in his career.
I was so honoured and so humbled to see how Ugo had acquired a record in chronological order, the growth of Norval Morrisseau throughout his career. It was amazing to see that each piece had been signed on the backs in black and some were also signed in pencil and quite a few ink drawings were not signed in English at all, only in syllabics on the front. Some early works were just signed with his initials NM.
The ones with sentiments to the piece contained short writing at time and provided me with insight as to what he was thinking. He must have been a very interesting man indeed. What a privilege to have been given the opportunity to take that journey.
"Ugo, these words I sent you are the truth. The love and respect I have for you can be written but only with care. You're really amazing Ugo. Your passion is the most beautiful thing about you. While I see it on your face when you're holding a Morrisseau, what I understand about your heart after getting to know you is like poetry."
(ART BLOG I) &
(ART BLOG II).
>>> Reference posts:
- Great Anishinaabe/Woodland Artists (Part XXIV)
/Ref. Simone McLeod/,
- "Is it OKAY if we share information with others about our ceremonies?", /Ref. Writing by Simone McLeod/,
- Simone McLeod about "Copper Thunderbird: The Art of Norval Morrisseau" at First Nations University of Canada (FNUC).