Observations of the Astral World c. 1994
Norval Morrisseau, Observations of the Astral World, c. 1994
Acrylic on canvas, 236 x 514 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Observations of the Astral World depicts many of the Eckankar teachings that, after almost twenty years of study, Norval Morrisseau had fully adopted into his visual vocabulary. Explaining his understanding of the spiritual world and its many planes of existence, he stated, “There is a museum of the astral world that each individual goes to by his own free choice…to pick up some energy.… All the things that men will create are already up there.” Morrisseau also described this place as a “House of Inventions” and believed that he visited astral planes where spirits guided him to intuitively conceive of his paintings.
The astral worlds Morrisseau depicts in this large-scale work neither replace nor erase his Anishinaabe cultural vocabulary. They demonstrate a fusion. The syncretism that exists in this painting allows Morrisseau to tell stories that are meaningful to him. A flow of communication between the earthly world on the left and the spiritual worlds (shown by bands of colour) on the right illustrates the dynamics of Morrisseau’s creativity. Morrisseau felt his brightly coloured canvases emitted healing powers, and due to his adoption of Eckankar beliefs, he felt that a spiritual force radiated from his colourful palette.
In this painting, the many ideas of personal and spiritual transformation that Morrisseau explored during his career culminate in a mature visual style. In the spheres or bubbles that encapsulate the different astral planes of this composition are the iconic images of animals, plants, humans, shamans, and spirit-beings that Morrisseau always painted. However, the clear lines and light-coloured palette are hallmarks of his later style, which, as art dealer Don Robinson notes, gives “viewers an overall impression of peace, harmony and the existence of a unified life force.” A calm has descended on this painting that reflects the sense of quiet that the artist achieved in his sixties and seventies. Morrisseau has found balance in his personal life, and this symmetrical painting attests to that fact.