Christian Morrisseau – All Of The Colours

Christian Morrisseau

“I speak as one son, an artist, and an Ojibwe. I am a born artist. This is not by accident. I work with and out of Anishnabe myths that have become the mark of the Woodland School of Art. I have had to contend with the terrible strength of my father’s vision. I am not alone. Such was his ability, that there is hardly a Native artist who does not learn from Norval’s artistic strength. My father taught by being. He never gave lessons. Art to him was waking in the morning. Art was revelation of the Ojibwe history. Art was getting ready for bed. I didn’t name it. I just knew it. I lived Norval Morrisseau’s art. My brother David and I sit solidly within the scope of Woodland Art – yet we are seen as different and alone.” Christian Morriseau

Christian was born on December 11, 1969 and raised in Red Lake, Ontario.  He is the youngest of Seven Children of the renowned Woodland Artist, Norval Morrisseau.  He now currently lives between Thunder Bay and Keewaywin First Nation, Ontario.  The signing of the Treaty 5 adhesion in 1910 established the Sandy Lake reserve across the water.  But some families felt left out of the community life there.

It was decided to return to their traditional lands, where they used to set up their trap line to catch fur-bearing animals.

They named this new place Keewaywin, which means “going home” in Oji-Cree, the language spoken here.  “They wanted that feeling of just being home,” say Joe Meekis, a form Keewaywin chief who is now a band councillor, recounting the local lore.  “They were lonely for the land.”

Christian Morrisseau - private momentChristian is an accomplished artist in his own right.  His love of the style of art was traditionally passed down to him by his father, Norval, who in turn learned from his grandfather, Potan.  Potan was a well-known and respected traditional Shaman.  Christian spent four months learning and listening to his father’s teachings and began painting in May 2002.  He wanted to celebrate his gift and keep the Morrisseau’s family traditions and stories alive.

Christian paints in the Woodland style, which was developed by his father Norval upon receiving a vision instructing him to do so.  Today there are well over 400 followers including Christian that paint in the Woodland style.  Christian paints his animal images, landscape, his father and children, his tradition, his legends.

Christian is a devout student of his father’s art yet continues to develop his artistic gifts with intensity, discipline, and passion.  This passion and devotion are reflected in the success of his pieces, which sell well in many markets and are widely accepted by art lovers.  Christian has donated works to charitable organizations including; youth organization, diabetes organizations, to the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation ‘Treaty 9’ where Christian is from, the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition and The Outdoor Writers of Canada.

Christian also teaches the Woodland art style to both native and non-native students in Thunder Bay and across other northwestern Ontario communities. Christian Morrisseau’s work can be found throughout both internationally and throughout Canada.

Christian has also suffered a great tragedy, Kyle Morrisseau is one of seven students from remote First Nations who died while attending school in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2014.  Their deaths are the subject of one of the largest inquests in Ontario’s history.

Kyle’s father, Christian Morrisseau told the CBC News program the fifth estate that Kyle had started painting shortly after his grandfather, Norval Morrisseau died in 2007.

“His art was really progressing a lot faster than I would have ever imagined,” Morrisseau said.  Kyle Morrisseau was last seen on Oct. 26, 2009 by classmates on the banks of the McIntyre Rive in Thunder Bay.  His body was pulled from the river on Nov. 10.

Morrisseau was the third student from Keewaywin to die during the course of three years, truly a tragic loss in a community numbering 300 residents.

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What is Woodland Art?

Woodland Art, also known as Legend Painting or Medicine Painting, is a distinct style of native art that blends traditional legends and myths with contemporary mediums. It explores the relationships between people, animals and plants and is rich with spiritual imagery and symbolism.

What does Woodland Art look like?

With its bright colours, bold lines and 2-dimensional design, Woodland Art is one of the most recognizable forms of native art. The visionary style emphasizes heavy black formlines and x-ray views of colourful, figurative images. The perspective is strictly frontal, profile or aerial, lacking ground lines and indications of horizons. But don’t be deceived by its visual simplicity—the subjects and themes explored in Woodland paintings carry powerful meanings.

Native symbolism is at the heart of Woodland Art, yet the mediums are anything but traditional. Woodland paintings are typically acrylic or watercolour paints on paper, canvas or wood panels.

Where does Woodland Art come from?

Norval Morrisseau, an Ojibway artist from Northern Ontario, is considered to be the founder of the Woodland School of Art. He was the first Ojibwa to break the tribal rules of setting down native legends in picture form, and was originally criticized for disclosing traditional spiritual knowledge. However, his unique style gained traction in the late 1960s, revitalizing traditional Ahnisnabae icons and inspiring 3 generations of artists from northwestern Ontario.

Dubbed the “Picasso of the North,” Norval Morrisseau was awarded the Order of Canada for his contribution to Canadian art. He laid the groundwork for Canadian native artists to be authentic to their own culture and experiences while still being considered part of the broader artistic scene.

Finally, Woodland Art symbolism explained!

When Norval Morrisseau first began painting, his intention was to re-introduce the Anishnaabe world view into the contemporary consciousness. The Ojibwa culture had been all but obliterated by the imposition of external governance and the influence of christian churches.

Using primary colours straight out of the tubes, Morrisseau painted the spiritual reality that had been the foundation of Ojibwa life for thousands of years. Raised by his shaman grandfather, Norval was familiar with the symbols used on the midewiwin birchbark scrolls. He knew the legends and he was intimately familiar with the ochre images that were everywhere on the rockfaces that bordered the waterways surrounding his ome.

Woodland art symbolism permeated his early paintings. The following may help you understand why he incorporated certain things into his imagery.

Lines of Power

Woodland art often shows lines of power radiating from the heads and bodies of both animals and people. The lines are usually short but the variations in length and intensity indicate the quality of power. The lines can both transmit and receive information.

Lines of Communication

Woodland artists often portray animals and people joined with flowing lines which indicate relationships which reflect the artist’s understanding of the nature of the interdependence between the two beings. This is a recent painting by Goyce Kakegamic depecting the legend of Red Lake.

Lines of Prophecy

Some powerful creatures may have narrow ivy-like lines spewing from their mouths which indicate more than simple speech – they indicate prophecy, particularly in association with shaman imagery.

A good example is this painting by Norval Morrisseau showing a shaman making direct communication with the universal life force.

Lines of Movement

Very short lines, clustered near an organ like a heart as in this example, indicate movement and an active attempt at communication with the viewer. The lines are particularly significant surrounding shaking tent imagery.

The Divided Circle

A circle divided in half, connected with the main image by lines of communication is an especially meaningful symbol used by woodland artists. The divided circle represents dualities present in the world – good and evil, day and night, sky and earth, honest and dishonest, function and dysfunction for example.

X-Ray Decoration

The term would have been meaningless to prehistoric woodland artists, but nowadays the concept of an x-ray view aptly describes the way woodland artists depict inner structures of people and animals. They are representations of inner spiritual life.


In prehistoric times the only significant colour used was red ochre as in this ancient image of mishpashu (a water spirit) on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior. In 1937 the image had been covered over with dark green oil based house paint by the twelve year old daughter of the local Indian agent. More than seventy years later the green paint has been destroyed by the elements but the original ochre illustration still stands proud.

Fortunately Norval Morrisseau had a broader palette. He painted with unmixed acrylics straight from the tube for most of his career. He used colour intuitively to reflect what he said was the inner reality of the inner being.