Norval Morrisseau’s revered work has been honoured, copied and recognized throughout the art world and beyond. Less widely known but equally captivating is the artist’s personal life story, which poet and biographer Armand Garnet Ruffo related in his powerful narrative biography, Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014). Ruffo immersed himself in the life and work of the artist, gaining insight into the struggles and sources of inspiration underlying Morrisseau’s greatest works through research and interviews with the artist himself—a connection further strengthened by their shared Ojibway heritage.
His lengthy study of Morrisseau inspired Ruffo to write poems reflecting on both the works of art and the emotional context in which Morrisseau painted them. Thunderbird Poems complements the highly evocative and poetic biography, delving into Morrisseau’s creative life through compressed, imagistic language, while untangling the complex and powerful threads of meaning, tradition and emotional power that resonate throughout Morrisseau’s strong lines and vibrant colours.
Significant themes in Morrisseau’s work are mirrored in Thunderbird Poems: Ojibway legends, Morrisseau’s conflicted religious beliefs, political tensions between white and aboriginal Canadians. Significant moments in Morrisseau’s life are also traced along with the development of his artistic career. Deeply immersed in Morrisseau’s life story, and possessing thorough knowledge of the Ojibway storytelling traditions which grounded so much of the artist’s beliefs and creativity, Ruffo provides fresh poetic interpretations of the most renowned and striking works of one of Canada’s most celebrated painters.