Like his father Norval before him, Christain Morriseau has a unique connection to his art. His art is alive. It doesn’t live exclusively on the canvas; it inhabits other worlds and uses every colour.
He opens his mind, heart and spirit; allowing the Ojibwe spiritual grandfathers to guide his brush strokes. The grandfathers guided his father’s hand and they guide Christain. This connection has allowed him the ability to produce truly unique art that’s loved throughout the world. His native name translates to ‘one that was born with sacred gifts’ and Christian shares these gifts through his colourful art.
In the beginning, live wasn’t easy for Christian. He was born in Red Lake, ON to Norval and Harriet Morriseau . His late father Norval is still regarded as one of the most renowned woodland artists to live. Norval was an alcoholic and Christian’s parents divorced early in his childhood. Norval left and continued to work on his art which gained a lot of popularity during the 60s’.
Meanwhile Christian and his sister Lisa were sent to a children’s home. The children’s home was run by Mennonites, the same people that ran the residential school his parents and countless other of Christian‘s people had attended.
Christian’s mother alerted them that she was getting remarried to a man named Joshua Hudson, who had made a home for her. The children were finally going to go home with their mother. Needless to say, Christian was excited. He hated the children’s home and was eager to leave.
Joshua had promised Harriet that he would help look after her children until they were adults.
“I was happy there, for a while, until Josh’s true colours came out,” explained Christain. “In my life, Joshua Hudson damaged me the worst. He did everything. So I lived with it.”
Christain couldn’t understand why his stepfather was abusive. For him, being able to live with his mother away from the children’s home made it seem worth it.
School wasn’t easy for a young Christain, but some teachers took an interest in helping the young student.
In the third grade, Christain sat inside the classroom, not wanting to join the other children for recess. His teacher, a young white woman asked him why he didn’t want to go outside with the others. He told the teacher that he didn’t like how the other children treated and spoke to him and that he would rather be alone. During this time he told his teacher that he wished he was white, like the others.
Her advice would stick with Christain for years to come.
“Christain, when God made you he tried to make you perfect,” explained the teacher years ago. “You were bread and God put you in the oven to make you and when he pulled you out, he pulled you out too early. You were too white, so he tried again, but he pulled you out too late and ended up black and burnt. So, he tried again. The third time that God put you in the oven you came out just right, perfect, nice and brown. The way you are.”
Norval, Christain’s father reappeared in his life at the age of nine. His mother called from his grandfather’s home and told him that is father wanted to see him. Christain was excited and ran to see his father. Upon arriving Norval took Christain for a walk. During the walk, Christain saw a bee and in an effort to impress his father he slapped and killed the bee that was buzzing on the side of the sidewalk. Norval was not happy with his young son’s decision.
“Why would you do that to something like that, to something that wants to live?” asked Norval.
That was Christain’s first teaching from his father. Respect every life: animals, plants, people and anything else the grandfathers created.
At the age of nine Christain had his first drink of alcohol, it would turn out to be the first of many more to come. He instantly fell in love with liquor. It made him feel good, it made him forget. Alcohol made Christain aggressive; it made him push back against the world. During this time, Christain was outside playing at recess with his sister and her friend Darlene. The kids were having a great time. Darlene tripped and hurt herself. The recess teacher heard Darlene’s cries and immediately rushed over and assuming the girl’s injury was malicious. The three children were sent to the office. While sitting in the principal’s office Christain knew what was coming. The two girls watched as Christain received five licks on each of his hands with a leather ruler. He volunteered to take the five sentenced to each of the girls, a total of 15 licks on each hand. The girls were sent back to class, Christain was asked to stay behind.
“You’re the dirtiest, ugliest person that I’ve met,” said the teacher as she stared at Christain. “Go back to your classroom, go do your work.”
Christain’s pants nearly fell to the floor on his way to class, because his hands were too badly hurt to hold them up.
Harriet and Joshua separated when Christain was in the 10th Grade. It was during this time that Christain started babysitting for a neighbouring family. He moved into the family’s house on the opposite end of town. Christain was rewarded with liquor after he finished looking after the children. That was his gift from them – the gift of alcoholism. This continued for over a year.
At the age of 19 Christain again received a call from his mother telling him that his father was in town. Norval wanted Christain to help him paint backgrounds for his art. At this time Norval had gained a reputation for his Woodland art and he was a much-respected artist. Christain enjoyed painting with his father; he even began to feel to spirits move within him while he worked.
Like the boy who killed the bee, Christain wanted to impress his father.
One day Christain asked his father for his own canvas and pencil and Norval handed it to him and told Christain to draw whatever he wanted on it.
Norval instructed his son to just paint something. He told him to use any colour he wanted and to not think about it, just paint on the canvas and not to worry about being an artist. That’s what Christain did. In fact, he did so for the entire day and painted about 30 to 40 backgrounds for his father, so many that he ran out of room on the table. With no more room to dry the backgrounds, Christain started placing his paintings on the lawn to dry. People passing by noticed the art drying; the colours that Christain had chosen were catching their attention.
That was the first time Christain tasted his colours.