The Tradition of Woodland Art
Woodland Art is perhaps best characterized by the pictographic paintings of Norval Morrisseau, cousin of Isadore Wadow. Other well-known Woodland Art painters of the first generation include Carl Ray and Jackson Beardy, both of the so-called "Indian Group of Seven"; paintings by brothers Goyce and Joshim Kakegamic, whose works were shown with Wadow's in the Waabanda-Iwewin Art Show (1984), are representative of second generation Woodland Art.
Goyce Kakegamic explained that the Woodland tradition arose because the artist knew that he could not "draw a tree or animal as perfectly as it was made by the Creator so, in good sense, he did not try to do so. Instead, he sought out the spirit, or essence, of the tree, and represented this in his painting. This is the semi-magical characteristic so common to Native Art. The painting depicts the soul of the object."
In Art in the Woodland Tradition, William F. Colborne states that works by second generation Woodland artists are "technically very strong" and "proclaim the nature of the Indian culture and its philosophy of life...Woodland paintings tell of the warm bonds within family circles, the members working together, their deep partnership with Nature's living things, and a sense of affinity with the surrounding environment. The messages expressed are invariably those of peace, contentment, and interdependence in the presence of the Maker of All Things."
Symbolism in Woodland Art (from Art in the Woodland Tradition, William F. Colborne)
Lines of Power are short lines radiating from the head of an animal or person of power. They "mediate the dialogue of the colours" and enable two-way communication for sending and receiving vibrations, power, and information.
Lines of Communication connect animals and people in a structured relationship and mark relationships by forming closed loops, rather like electrical circuits.
Divided Circles are invariably located outside of the main image and are connected to a Line of Communication. For some artists, the divisions in these represent dualities, or binaries. Jackson Beardy, who uses this technique frequently, uses a split circle coloured red and yellow to depict the 'father sun' and a circle with a dark centre to represent the 'grandmother moon', which stands for birth, nourishment, and protection.
The Four Seasons may be depicted literally but also represent the cycle of life (infancy, youth, adulthood, and old age).
X-Ray Decorations, which are probably the most recognizable features of Woodland Art, sometimes make the animals more attractive, but often distort the creature to the extent that first-time viewers sometimes experience outright revulsion.