FOREVER THUNDERBIRD explores the life of aboriginal painter Brian Marion, who at the age of 13 became the apprentice to Grand Shaman painter Norval Morrisseau. Tragically, in December 2011, Brian passed away from complications arising from Diabetes. The film will include footage shot by the producers with Brian in 2010 and 2011.
Brian’s life was volatile. From mystic and shaman to alcoholic and mischief maker, Brian was larger than life. His vibrant paintings are internationally exhibited. According to Norval Morrisseau, “during [his] years of training, Brian learned both the spiritualism of the Ojibway culture and the techniques of Shaman art.” Brian’s paintings, which often came to him like visions, offer insights into chapters of his colourful life and relate back to the teachings of Morrisseau.
Brian was a self described “13 year old punk in Winnipeg who stole Norval’s TV off his front porch and then sold it back to him.” When Brian repeated the exercise a second time, Norval called his bluff and invited him inside. Thus began a ten year mentorship and a lifelong friendship. Their relationship was volatile – driven to extremes by alcohol and other substance abuse.
Morrisseau was inspired by the symbolism in ancient rock paintings and carvings and passed this knowledge on to Brian. “As an artist,” Morrisseau said, “[Brian] has learned to apply colour to forms that were derived, in part, from ancient pictographs still found in the central region of Canada. While he developed his artistic talents, he was taught to use the meanings of the legends as a basis for the composition of his paintings. He has acquired the knowledge from the visions of our people and has come to understand our close ties with nature. He has been able to get inspiration from his native spirituality and with the blessing of the Creator, add his own emotional and intuitive interpretations to produce beautiful art.”
Morrisseau’s close relationship with Brian created controversy and hostility over the years. Morrisseau, who was named “Copper Thunderbird”, named Brian “Forever Thunderbird”. Yet when Norval was on his death bed and Brian came to pay his respects, he was chased out of the room.
Morrisseau’s own legacy is controversial. Two years prior to his death he launched a law suit against members of his own family. He charged that a syndicate of art dealers were flooding the art market with thousands of counterfeit Morrisseau paintings since the 1980’s. After his death, the law suit was spearheaded by Brian’s close friend, Richie Stardreamer Sinclair, another protégé of Morrisseau. By Ritchie’s count there are over $50 million dollars worth of forged paintings flooding the market, both devaluing the authentic Morrisseau works and over saturating the aboriginal art market.
The forgery case cast a shadow over the aboriginal art community. Brian’s dream was to fulfill his destiny as Morrisseau’s protégé by creating his own unique paintings according to the Shamanistic Art method. He dreamed of having a ceremonial feast surrounded by his paintings, created in honour of Norval Morriseau, help to heal the wounds created by the forgery scandal and make peace within the native art community.