Aldergrove, BC – (Aldergrove Conspiracy; aka Aldergrove Conspiracy Theorists) – The old hydro building in a rural part of this small town east of Vancouver, deserves a Canadian Heritage Designation, as the spiritual home of an all-white rump of conspiracy theorists who claim to know of a so-called syndicate of diabolical forgers – they accuse numerous First Nations artists – who they say created thousands of forged Norval Morrisseau paintings, and were selling them to unsuspecting collectors, fine art retailers, and Canadian and American museums.
It gets worse: the conspiracy theorists persist with their delusions in spite of a truly awesome mountain of independent scientific expert reports, to the contrary, which in every single case – over 70 individual findings – have found that paintings the conspiracy theorists claim are forgeries, are in fact, the total polar opposite, with DNA certainty: genuine paintings by the artist.
It was here, in the old hydro building, in 1989, that most of the group (which ultimately included Norval Morrisseau, Gabe Vadas, Bryant Ross, Karl Burrows, Michele Vadas, and Aaron Milrad) gathered to listen to Donald Robinson, who had come from Toronto – where he ran a small family-owned and operated Kinsman Robinson Galleries – outline his national plan for how to fix future prices for Norval’s new paintings. The cartel was eager to hear how he planned to manipulate things to boost Norval’s prices, which were truly awful at the time.
In return for implementing his plan to fix prices, Robinson wanted to become the Director of Marketing for the cartel, of all the new paintings which the group would sell in Canada and around the World. Though Robinson had no degree, diploma, or certification in fine art – his academic accreditations were solely in electrical engineering; in other words he only knew how to install a light over a painting – he did have an MBA, so he knew how to fix prices.
This may be strong evidence that it is Robinson who first discovered the Conspiracy. He became – by far – the biggest public face of the Aldergrove Conspiracy. But others say Robinson didn’t “discover” anything at all, but just dreamed it up, as Joe McLeod told a CBC crew, just as an attempt “to control the market.”
(Neither Robinson, nor the artist, or other members of the cartel, of course, had any control over the thousands of secondary market Morrisseaus, that Norval had sold over the past 40 years, that they were competing with in the market place.)
All the members of the group have subscribed to the extremist tenets of the Aldergrove Conspiracy, and spoken out in public of their firm beliefs in the bogus claims, with the single, solitary – and notable – exception, of Norval Morrisseau, the artist himself. There does not exist a single audio or video clip of Norval Morrisseau saying he believes a word of it: neither the existence of masses of forgeries, nor the existence of a group of forgers. Until that evidence is produced, Norval deserves a pass on being a conspiracy theorist.
The Aldergrove conspiracy theory was not fully developed until May 18, 2001 when Donald Robinson unveiled the astonishing claim, to an incredulous world, through Murray Whyte in the National Post.
In fact, Robinson’s theory burst on the world stage, with equal bombast, at exactly the same time as Lance Armstrong started to claim loudly that he did not dope up to amass his amazing Seven Tour de France victories.
In 2013, believers in Lance’s preposterous claims – the biggest American hoax – are down to one; in the Morrisseau forgery conspiracy, adherents are probably down to fewer than that, because no one believes that, beset with the truly awesome scientific evidence to the contrary, even the most passionate of the extremist fringe spokesmen who continue to speak out as if they believe the thousands of Morrisseau forgeries are out there, actually do so in private.
The “Morrisseau forgeries” Hoax – AKA the Aldergrove Conspiracy – has now surpassed the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or the Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed a book published in 1836, as the biggest Hoax in Canadian history.
Art Cartel – a group of white business men, who starting in 1989, gathered around Norval Morrisseau to take charge of his affairs. The cartel would direct his life, his art, his business, for the next 18 years, till he died in 2007.
They dealt exclusively with “direct from the artist” sales, from which Norval – and they – would get profits, not the secondary market of some 9,000 works that Norval had painted and sold many years before, and from which neither he, nor cartel members, would get any money whatsoever.
Almost immediately the cartel set in motion a variety of strategies, designed to deliberately promote Norval’s moribund painting career, and boost prices for art he had for sale, across Canada and the world. From then on, Norval took a back seat to cartel founding members:
– Gabor (Gabe) Vadas, a Grade 6 graduate from Powell River BC, and Norval Morrisseau’s personal manager since the two met on the streets in Vancouver, in the late 80s, and became lovers (according to court testimony in 2012, of Wolf Morrisseau, Norval’s brother and longtime – pre-Cartel – business and personal manager);
– Bryant Ross, a sometime painter and art retailer – of vague educational and academic background – who had his shop in a derelict old hydro building in the bush near Aldergrove, BC, and who became Norval’s Business Manager in 1989 (I visited him in the spiritual home of the Aldergrove Conspiracy Theorists, in 2005);
– Karl Burrows, a contract artist – of vague educational and academic background – hired by the cartel, in 1989, as Norval’s assistant painter, since everyone realized Norval’s lines were increasingly wobbly which made for less saleable paintings; that he could no longer reach big canvases; that his weakening arms could no longer hold a brush for the extended periods called for to create the dozens of paintings needed to bring in income when his works were only selling for hundreds of dollars apiece, or less. Though an accomplished painter in his own right he is most famous for creating “Burrowsseaus;”
– Donald Robinson, an electrical engineer by training, with no academic credentials of any kind in art, who ran a small family art gallery with his wife and son – Kinsman Robinson Galleries, in Yorkville in Toronto.
In 1989, he visited the group, in the hydro plant in Aldergrove, and made a pitch to the cartel with his plan to boost prices for new art Norval had for sale. In exchange, he wanted exclusive rights to sell Norval’s art in Canada and around the world. Norval pointedly refused to give him world rights. (I met Donald Robinson several times in 2000, at auction and at his gallery, where I have been several times since.)
– Aaron Milrad, a “hired-gun” lawyer for Norval and the Cartel, became a media publicist for whatever the group wanted to “put out” to the public about Norval and his art, and the Morrisseau market in general.In 1989, the cartel was faced with a grim reality that only got worse by 2000 – they had a painter who was sinking rapidly – physically, and mentally as well. His artistic output reflected those realities.
And by the late 90s, a flood of secondary market Morrisseaus, from his 1970s “high period,” began to flood the market and compete with the new, less attractive, current paintings – from his “Invalid Period” – that Norval wanted to sell.
Understandably, people flocked to buy the older fabulous works, at cheaper prices, in preference to Norval’s latest works which were questionable, wobbly, and way, way overpriced in comparison.
By 2000 it was clear that the cartel’s strategy, as orchestrated by Donald Robinson, to boost prices of Norval’s new art was failing miserably.
Then without warning, came the flood of more secondary market Morrisseaus at Randy Potter Auctions, in 1999. Donald Robinson himself went there and scooped up dozens of wonderful paintings for a few hundred dollars, or a thousand each…
The flood of wonderful old Morrisseau paintings, at cheap prices, caused consternation in the cartel camp.
Clearly, desperate measures were called for…
BDP – short for “Black Drybrush Painting,” which is short for “1970s style Morrisseau painting, black drybrush signed, titled, and dated on the back.” Norval Morrisseau signed, titled, and dated, in black drybrush paint, many hundreds of these in the 1970s after his brother Wolf, who was his business advisor and manager at the time, urged him to start the practice to benefit sales overseas, in Germany and Japan etc., where people would understand his English writing on the back, but not his syllabics on the front.
BDPs have attracted the special wrath of a small handful of art terrorists who claim Norval Morrisseau “NEVER EVER DID THAT.” Luckily for Morrisseau collectors, that Norval, in fact, did so. Norval’s signature on the back of scores of these BDPs has been scientifically proven, by several different, independent forensic document examiners and handwriting experts – with DNA certainty – to have ALL been done by him and no one else. Without a single dissenting finding.
Richard McClintock, Canadian Master Forger – Richard McClintock is a Canadian professional art forger, who was caught in Montreal when he tried to sell two forged Canadian paintings – a fake Borduas and a Riopelle – to an art dealer. He was arrested, charged, taken to court, and a judge sentenced him to to eight months of house arrest and prohibited him from entering an art gallery two years, for trying to sell two forgeries.
This article is based on the published claims of Principal Conspiracy Theorists Donald Robinson and Aaron Milrad. It offers an instructive comparison what happens when a real forger is found, instead of a theoretical one.
McClintock was only a single, furtive forger. Yet he was easily found and quickly arrested.
The Conspiracy theorists claim there are many Morrisseau forgers, even a factory-full, or a syndicate, out there. Then why, if there are supposed to be so many, have neither the cartel, nor the police managed to find, catch, arrest, or charge, even one…?
McClintock was a smart forger. Yet the wily police nabbed him, almost as soon as he started trying to sell forgeries.
The Conspiracy Theorists say the Morrisseau forgers – they claim there is a number, or syndicate, or factory full of them – are all inept amateurs at forgery, and such poor painters that even an amateur could quickly identify their fakes. Then why, they being such rank amateurs, and presumably equally inept from hiding from the police, have the police, obviously with a lot of choice, never been able to discover, nab, or charge even one of the dumbest Morrisseau forgers? Even for loitering, or littering, let alone forging…
McClintock was arrested after trying to sell only TWO PAINTINGS.
The Conspiracy Theorists say there may be as many as 4,000 forgeries or more out there, with hundreds supposedly having been sold at auction and galleries. Then why, faced with such a huge choice of easy pickings has not a single person ever been charged or arrested for either, forgery, or trying to sell even one Morrisseau forgery?
In what, for the Conspiracy Theorists, is nothing if not a truly stunning reverse of epic proportions, the fact is that every single painting that the cartel has called a forgery, that has been sent to a top independent Canadian forensics document examiner and handwriting expert, has come back confirmed, with DNA certainty, as a genuine work by Norval Morrisseau. By early 2013, there are over 70 such forensic findings, with more coming, by three different experts, without a single dissenting finding yet.
Police and prosecutors took McClintock to court because all they needed was proof of one forgery; they had a bonanza of forgeries… TWO…
In 12 years since the cartel announced their Conspiracy Theory, and the discovery of thousands of forgeries, being churned out by a group of forgers, the cartel – forget the police – has never taken a single person or business to court, for either supposedly forging Morrisseaus, or trying to sell forged Morrisseaus.
How much credibility do the Conspiracy Theorists possibly have left? In McClintock’s case the cops, the courts, and the judge acted quickly and powerfully in response to clear evidence of forgery related to only two paintings.
The cartel claimed they had three or four thousand alleged forgeries to chose from, and perhaps a dozen alleged forgers, yet in 12 years never even tried, to take a single person to court.
It took no brains, no time, no money to nail McClintock, a real honest-to-goodness forger, just with day to day police work.
Then why did the RCMP, after a two year investigation, costing millions of dollars, and after conducting possibly hundreds of interviews, across Canada, close the books on the Morrisseau Forgery Conspiracy Theory, as publicized by Donald Robinson and Aaron Milrad, and lay not a single charge against anyone for making forgeries, or selling forgeries? Or seize, or declare, a single painting – out of thousands targeted by the daring duo – as a supposed forgery?
McClintock was found guilty in court by a judge, and given two years for trying to sell only two forgeries.
Donald Robinson has repeatedly, publicly defamed Randy Potter of Port Hope, by accusing him of knowingly selling some 2,000 forgeries. If Robinson had proof for any of it – beyond a baseless Conspiracy Theory he cherishes – it would mean Randy would be in prison for 2,000 years. Yet Randy went on selling the same paintings for some 10 years, without a single problem call from the police or prosecutors.
Oh there was a SLAPP suit from the cartel that Randy ignored, without any legal consequence to him whatsoever.
Randy talked to the police. They took his side, totally and absolutely, and dismissed all accusations of him purportedly selling forgeries, of any kind, and number, as malicious and without foundation.
Randy Potter and his wife Donna Shea told police, and testified in court, that in 10 years of selling so-called Morrisseau forgeries – up to 2,000 to some 200 of Canada’s top art dealers and retailers – not a single, solitary one had ever come back demanding a refund, or returned a single Morrisseau, claiming to have been sold a forgery.
And that, in the Astonishment of the Century, included Principal Conspiracy Theorist, Donald Robinson, who claimed in court that every Morrisseau painting Randy Potter sold was a forgery. Yet, though he had bought 28 of them himself, for $54,000 from Randy Potter, he did not return a single one for a refund. He also never even complained to Potter that he had been sold forgeries. He presumably could afford to just throw away 54 grand on so called worthless fakes…
And in every case where Robinson and Milrad point to one “likely suspect,” independent scientists retort, with DNA certainty, that they are wrong, it’s a genuine Morrisseau. That’s over 70 times, and counting…
Now why would two Toronto suits persist with public utterances of such a wild “Conspiracy Theory” for which they have failed, utterly, to provide the police, or the public, with a single piece of independently verifiable scientific evidence?
And failed to get even a single arrest, required to give their charges even minimal credibility. When they claimed to have 4,000 amateur, inept specimens to pick from.
The last word must go to McClintock, who was locked up after being caught with only two…
Did he forge Morrisseaus?
Not on your life; the man is not stupid. He forged Borduas and Riopelle, the top two selling Quebec painters, whose canvases sell for $600,000 to $5 million, each…
As any self-respecting forger knows, he wouldn’t be caught dead forging the works of a painter like Norval Morrisseau, WHOSE HUGE ACRYLIC ORIGINALS – NOT FAKES OR DUPES – WERE SELLING AT AUCTION, WHERE DONALD ROBINSON HIMSELF WAS BUYING THEM UP AS FAST AS HE COULD, FOR ONLY HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS…
But then we didn’t count on the Stupid Forger… Remember, Robinson, and Milrad desperately need him to support their Conspiracy Theory…
Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007) – is Canada’s most famous Aboriginal painter who established a totally unique style of “ethno-cultural” painting for First Nations artists, called the “Woodland” or “Anishinaabe” school, that comes from, and reflects, uniquely, the “Indian” experience in Canada.
It is a given that no white man can legitimately paint in the “Anishinaabe” or Woodland style. Buyers of this kind of exclusively ethno-cultural Indian art will always ask – and gallery owners will always go out of their way to certify – that indeed, the “Woodland” artist in question, is of First Nations background, and not just some white guy interloper, or Chinese off-shore art faker, trying to make a buck fraudulently, from a popular, and uniquely Canadian Indian, school of painting.
Norval’s “High” Period – Norval’s high period, as an artist, is widely acknowledged to have been the 1970s, when he was healthy – physically and mentally – most prolific, had the most shows, received Honorary Doctorates, the Order of Canada, and had the most lavish book of his career produced. It’s his BDP period, which attracted the special wrath of cartel attacks.
Norval’s “Invalid” Period – After a lifetime of extremely self-indulgent living – excess consumption of booze, perfume, shaving lotion, etc., drugs of every description, and wild sex of all kinds – by the early 1990s, his physical and mental decline accelerated rapidly.
His son Christian says he couldn’t paint a canvas after 1995, when Norval was permanently tied to his wheel-chair, and was suffering from heart attacks, and Parkinsons. In his last years he couldn’t hold his tongue in his mouth, hold his head up, or communicate with anyone.
Experts vary, of course, on exactly when Norval’s “Invalid Period” of painting started. In the late 1980s, old friend Lloyd Comber, after not seeing him for years, encountered Norval who showed him his paintings. Comber remarked: “I noticed that his art wasn’t as good as it used to be.”
Said Gail Fikis, art associate with the Thunder Bay Art Gallery (1983-2007): “I have always told people, if you have work from the 60s, you’re laughing to the bank, the 70s, OK, but into the late 80s, questions, 90s and on, anything goes…”
Tellingly, from the time the Hoax, over alleged Morrisseau forgeries, broke in 2001, there exists no media video tape of any kind with Norval Morrisseau talking to any journalist on camera, on any subject. And no video tape of Norval alleging fakes of any kind by anyone. None…
Starting as early as 1989, Norval had put his business and painting affairs exclusively into the hands of an art cartel of all white men, who for the last 17 years of his life would take charge of his painting production, sales, and promotions.
They, famously, secreted Norval away from his family and his friends – who complained loudly – and more tellingly, away from TV camera interviews, of any kind.
Why? Because the members of the cartel, who controlled his every move, wanted to hide from the public, as long as possible, that “Norval had left the building,” a long, long time ago… Were they trying to prevent anyone from starting to ask? “Hey! Just where are all those new paintings of his coming from?”
And for years, it worked…
Norval, for whatever reason – by design or mental and physical disability – was cast as the “Dumb Indian” for the last ten years of his life.
He let the “white guys,” the members of his art cartel, do all the talking to the radio and TV interviewers.
And they, indeed, are at the heart of the Hoax.