Acquired from the above by Dr. George MacDonald, 2003;
Collection of Dr. George and Mrs. Joanne MacDonald, Cantley, Quebec;
Estate of Dr. George MacDonald.
Morrisseau's career and private life was tumultuous throughout the 1980s. He had been showered with recognition and awards, and feted with a stunning retrospective art book, but he was battling serious alcohol and drug addiction, while amazingly also trying to fulfil his dream of creating a new Thunderbird School of Art. This painting was probably created when Morrisseau was living rough, perhaps even in hiding, as he had become involved with some shady dealers after his relationship with the Pollock Gallery ended. The painting is not completely finished but was likely sold because the artist was in desperate need of cash, with the signature and date added in some haste. The work may be a portrait of Carl Henderson, a New York-based artist who was Morrisseau's lover and died around this time, or perhaps it is a self-portrait inspired by that friendship.
Shaman (Master of the Fish) is monumental and stunning, despite its unfinished state. Thematically it is related to Morrisseau's numerous compositions of the late 1970s and early 1980s, however it also takes its place as one of the most impressive erotic paintings that he produced over the years. These have not always been publicly exhibited or reproduced - for obvious reasons - but they do constitute an important aspect of his art. For Morrisseau, shamanism, sexuality, and virility would have been inextricably linked. An important early work on paper, Self Portrait Devoured by Demons from 1964 in the AGO Collection, depicts a snake-as-phallus; Artist in Union with Mother Earth from 1972 takes a more subtle approach . But while Shaman (Master of the Fish) has shock value, in the end it is a vibrant, monumental testament to Morrisseau's artistic vision and uncompromising, unconventional life.
1. The two works are illustrated in Greg Hill et al, Norval Morrisseau - Shaman Artist (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2006) cats. 22 and 28, and elsewhere.
References: For stylistically similar works from the late 1970s and early 1980s see Greg Hill et al, Norval Morrisseau - Shaman Artist (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2006) cats. 40-43; Lister Sinclair and Jack Pollock, The Art of Norval Morrisseau (Toronto: Methuen, 1979), pp. 149-159. These books, along with Elizabeth McLuhan and Tom Hill's Norval Morrisseau and the Emergence of the Image Makers (Toronto: AGO/Methuen, 1984) have insightful essays on the art and life of Norval Morrisseau.