Norval Morrisseau The Grand Shaman & His Hungarian SonWednesday, December 05, 2007
Norval Morrisseau, 1935-2007
Sometime near the end of May 1999, Chris Dafoe, the Western Arts Correspondent in Vancouver for the Globe & Mail called me up most enthusiastically that I had to photograph a native (Ojibwa) artist, Norval Morrisseau with a strange ex-street person of Hungarian extraction Gabor (Gabe) Vadas. Vadas was Morrisseau's "adopted" son ("His kinship with the old man is not recognized by family or law," Dafoe wrote) after they met in the streets of Vancouver or as Dafoe wrote (he had interviewed both Morrisseau and Vadas at Joe Fortes on Thurlow and Robson):
A dozen years ago, those same people [diners at Joe Fortes] might have stepped over both the old Indian and the young Hungarian on their way to this restaurant. In the late 1980s, both Norval Morrisseau and Gabor Vadas were living on the streets of Vancouver. Morrisseau's presence on those streets - the news that he was selling sketches for the price of bottles of booze, sleeping in parks, prone to unintelligible rants, telling people that "to get drunk in Vancouver is the most beautiful thing there is" made national headlines in 1987. He was, after all, one of the most important artists this country had ever produced, a member of the Order of Canada, a man whose work was collected by major galleries across Canada and around the world.
Dafoe finished his fine interview:
As lunch wound down and the coffee grew cold, Vadas continued to talk about life with Norval. When he was asked how their relationship has changed over the years, it became clear that he sees himself s more than just a caretaker or an agent, even more than a son. "Our relationship started out as student and teacher, because Norval is a grand shaman," he said. "I think it has evolved into a relationship of two teachers. Norval has figured out how to get the power and how to hand it down to me. He's taken me as an apprentice. If Norval died tomorrow, he wouldn't be leaving this world, because he would continue to see it through me."
The old Indian looked on silently, through heavy lidded eyes, as his Hungarian son talked excitedly about mystical tales of legend and the power they possess. It is a world the old man knows well, a world that has been much kinder to him than this one.
Chris Dafoe, April 10, 1999 The Globe & Mail