Q+A with Art Collector Ugo Matulic
Ugo Matulic , collector, art lover and defender of Norval Morrisseau has spent the past ten years of his life dedicated to studying and acquiring works of art by this legendary Canadian visual artist. His passion and love for this work are unlike any I have ever witnessed, he took some time to speak to us about art, art collection and the Legacy of Norval Morrisseau here is what he had to say.
1)When was the first time you recall seeing Norval Morrisseau’s work and why do you believe it affected you so greatly you started collecting it?
In Sept of 1999 there was an exhibition under the title of “Powerful Images” at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, where among other things dedicated to different artist they had a show, a major show of the exhibition was Norval Morrisseau works. A selection of Norval Morrisseau’s works from the Glenbow Museum archives was presented. They have ninety six originals in their collection and I was impressed with the imagery and I left under the impression and thought that hopefully I would be able to afford one Norval Morrisseau.
2) Why do you think you chose to start collecting Norval Morrisseau’s work? What do you think it is in his imagery?
I found it extremely powerful, it just grows on you. The imagery is …, the first impression is overwhelming and what you notice is the more you are exposed to it the more it starts growing on you. You experience it at many different levels of intensity depending on your on mood. It was amazing the way he was able to combine the colors and the powerful images. They had an effect on me.
3) Did you have an interest in art before you started collecting Norval Morrisseau’s work?
Oh definitely, all my life. Speaking about this particular style of art though, North American Native, Aboriginal, Indian art, the first native piece of art I purchased was by Isaac Bignell, a Cree Indian from Manitoba. He used a different style, a style that was more influenced by Benjamin Chee Chee than Norval Morrisseau, it was very simplistic, a minimalist style with powerful images of birds and animals and bison and stuff. It was very powerful; it affected me to start collecting the art. I was pretty much collecting Isaac Bignell’s until a dealer from Winnipeg , by the name of Anthony Martinenko offered me a Norval Morrisseau painting, which I was familiar with thanks to the Glenbow show. I bought one and that was the beginning of me collecting Norval Morrisseau’s art exclusively.
4) How many years have you been studying Norval’s work?
Now it has been a full ten years. I have been dedicated to this particular cause, to this particular artist for the last ten years. I have had the chance to acquire some other artists work at a good price, but then I had great contacts to acquire great Morrisseau’s for reasonable prices. I had studied a lot, studying book about Ojibwa people, my most important two books where “The Art of Norval Morrisseau” that was co written buy Lister Sinclair and Jack Pollock (who was his first dealer in 1962) and “The Legends of My People: The Great Ojibwa” that Norval Morrisseau wrote about the legends of his people. I was able to learn a lot about the legends of the Ojibwa at the same time acquiring many paintings that are directly connect with the explanation of certain legends. It was quite a thrill when I was able to study the art, the history of his people, and legends while at same time acquire art which nicely blended together
5) How can an average person start an exquisite art collection?
An average person can start a collection easily. Thanks to the power of the internet you can do research on an artist of interest and you can then try to find it on E Bay or at different venues, visiting different galleries, and galleries in other cities. Thanks to the power of internet there are lots of opportunities to acquire works, through different web site galleries and at the same time if your lucky enough like myself to acquire good contacts with direct sources, you can acquire pieces of art at a much more reasonable price then buying them directly through the galleries. I have acquired only a limited number of paintings from galleries, maybe fifteen or twenty paintings.
6) What is a current project you are working on?
The current and major project is the Norval Morrisseau blog that I am the blog master of, which involves different issues particularly major issues in trying to defend every piece that in my opinion deserves to be acknowledged. There is lots of controversy, slash conspiracy that actually involves a number of individuals in gallery’s who have tried to control the market by putting down a large body of the artist’s work, which is not acceptable, which is not acceptable because I respect the artist very much and can’t stand by watching that happening. I realise I do not want to talk to much about paintings that are authentic or not authentic, I just try to provide enough proof, enough information to seasoned and novice collectors for them to feel comfortable about what they are acquiring that it is authentic. It’s quite a challenge considering that not many people are assisting in the task. Even many people who possess valuable information that can assist to put this situation in order. Right now, things are damaged, the Norval Morrisseau art market is damaged, but I believe his legacy can never be damaged because he is way too important for Canada and the world.
7) Norval once said “I do not wish my work to exploited, but properly used as an art form in it’s proper place where for the generations of great Ojibwa people it can be seen in it’s proper place….” What do you have to say to people who you believe are exploiting his legacy?
I believe that Norval Morrisseau’s art is full of positive energy and all the negative elements will be washed away sooner or later. I think their actions are definitely not serving; they might temporarily work towards drawing people. Drawing collectors to buy from them, but once every thing is exposed…, I think this is not honourable to put down a large body the artist’s work for somebody else financial gain. After all the market is so damaged that many people have taken advantage of the situation by acquiring pieces. I would say if you want to, say buy a piece on the internet, its Ahh I don’t know it’s….. What they are trying to achieve is defiantly damaging, it will actually damage their reputation as someone who supposedly cared about the artist work. It’s a shame that things are going on about the authenticity of Norval Morrisseau’s art. I believe he is extremely important to Canada and he is an important painter because if he wasn’t none of the stuff would be happening.
8) What is something you enjoy about having studied an artist so intently?
The Power of his art is just amazing. I mean I have been collecting for a decade; I’ve spent the last decade of my life dedicated to collect and study his art. He constantly surprised me with power of expression and ability to deliver his art and execute his art. Many artists develop a certain style. I mean you see some painting and you know right away, this is a painting by such and such artist, but I have probably one of the most comprehensive collections of Norval Morrisseau that spans from the beginning of his career from 1957 all the way to 2002. Basically there have been so many different styles. When people say that Norval Morrisseau did not paint in a certain style in the 1970’s or 80’s or 90’s it’s not really a right statement because he was a genius able to experiment in so many different ways. His power of constantly changing and growing and breaking his own convention and executing styles in so many different ways. I mean he created a visual vocabulary that never existed before; he was able to evolve constantly. His inspiration was such that he never had an artistic block. He was inspired all the time to paint, he never asked anybody, what do you think about this, what do you think about that. He was a man on a mission to paint and preserve his cultural heritage. He was a great Canadian painter a national treasure and it is unfortunate that people of power are not doing something to protect his legacy.
9) What is do you believe your role as a major collector is in Norval Morrisseau’s legacy?
Well I am proud, and feel a great honour to be working on the blog. Trying to do something to put things in order, which unfortunately the way it works, I can’t achieve much it seems with out some court case proceeding. Some court case proceeding need to give a blessing about what authentic and what’s not. I am happy and glad to share my love and passion for the art. I hope it will inspire the others to try to solve these issues so that people can finally start enjoying the art with out thinking about whether this authentic or not. I feel I am just a messenger. Somebody had to be a messenger and some body had to be there to express certain concerns, and I believe that I have provided a great forum where people can go and gain some education about different thing about Norval Morrisseau’s art. I have received emails from many people thanking me for being able to give them enough information that they can believe whether what they have is authentic or not.
10) Why is art a good way to invest money?
First of all, the beauty of art is that you buy it because you like it, you love it. The power of art is such, that good art can make you feel good, if you find something inspiring in a particular piece of art. Now I don’t consider myself an ordinary collector because not many collectors will all of the sudden start amassing a large number of paintings by one particular artist, but the power of Norval Morrisseau’s imagery was such and I had opportunities to acquire art for extremely affordable prices. Then I thought, we are talking about a national treasure who is an extremely important artist, that inspires me and I love the art, and you know I acquired one piece, two pieces, four, five, six, ten then I ended up at the point where I was just acquiring art, as much good Norval Morrisseau art that I was able to afford. Speaking about whether art is a good investment, I believe he is very important, for affordable prices or just for pure enjoyment. I believe he is a good investment cause once the situation get sorted out Norval Morrisseau’s art is not going to be affordable for ordinary people. My driving force to collect the art was not art as an investment, as a monetary value. I think it’s very important, Norval Morrisseau art is more important on a spiritual level, for what this art means to me. Regardless of any thing Good Art is Always a good investment if you observe it as an investment as vehicle for you investing your money but there are more powerful aspects of art than just pure investment for money, there is pure enjoyment of owning the art that can inspire you and make you feel good about yourself. Art is inspiration and if something inspires you, like good art,…you know Norval Morrisseau’s art was so colourful that many people claim to be cured by his art. It’s scientifically proven that color therapy is very effective and his art is extremely powerful particularly paintings that are more vibrant, he used more vibrant colors starting from the late seventies to the end of his career. Personally I like those subdued earth colors he used at the beginning of his career because those had some spiritual power. Those images have a different power not necessarily from the colors he used though; it’s the power of the imagery he implemented even with a limited pallet of colors.
Psychic Space 1996