Circa 1983, Acrylic on stretched canvas, 48” x 32”, 122 x 81cm, verso titled in pencil by Morrisseau
Night Shaman was painted by Norval Morrisseau in or around 1983 while residing on Baldwin Street in Toronto, Ontario. He sold the 48 x 32 inch painting to Ms. Ilona Nagy, operator of the Art Imperial Gallery, located nearby. Soon after painting this portrait Norval headlined the first contemporary Native art exhibition ever held in a major Canadian institution, the aptly entitled, Norval Morrisseau and the Emergence of the Image Makers. (Art Gallery of Ontario, February 1984) In 1990 Ms. Nagy took her beloved Morrisseau art, purchased directly from Norval, and opened the Native Art Imperial Museum, featuring her collection of a hundred or more top-flight Morrisseau paintings.
Night Shaman is a self-portrait of Morrisseau immersed in memories of close friend, artist Carl Sunshine Henderson, who passed away at 25. Carl, a significant artist in Morrisseau’s Thunderbird School of Art, went for a short hiatus to New York City and never returned. While this beautiful painting depicts Norval’s reminiscent feelings, it simultaneously portrays physical attributes and characteristics unique to Carl. It is essentially a self-portrait of both of them, pictured in one being.
A chiseled warrior figure faces west, reflecting on the past, by way of the setting sun. Though he stands cloaked in illumination, his 3rd eye is blackened, straining to seek out shamanic truth. Morrisseau had been left in the dark about the fate of his friend. The circumstances of Sunshine’s demise were covered up, leaving his disappearance unresolved to others who knew and loved him. Without closure Norval found himself compelled to seek answers within.
In the years to follow Morrisseau produced many portraits of Sunshine; a sacred muse anointed as “The Morning Star” and “The Aries”. A background in deep crimson shows the shamanic nature of this painting. Warm yellows and soft pinks balance one another to signify heartfelt feelings and love. Spirit birds crown him, symbolizing particularized memories and considerations. The white hue emanating from the eye of this love warrior reveals him in the act of self-healing. This iconic artwork is a painting of hope, trust, yearning, aspiration and compassion. Love never dies.
Ritchie Stardreamer Sinclair, 2019