Norman Catherine revisits the Goodman Gallery
by Michelle Matthews
Norman Catherine first exhibited at the Goodman Gallery thirty years ago, in 1972, the year he became a full-time artist. For his 2002 show he has created a new body of work, utilising a range of familiar images the staple of his oeuvre.
Parts of the exhibition are, however, a departure. Bronze is not a medium Catherine is traditionally associated with, even though the cats, snakes and masks are easily recognizable. On this exhibition wide, sketchily carved dark wood frames surround his single-level tableaus of characters. Fresh familiars are parrots, sharks and a raccoon.
The cats are everywhere, mostly smugly tea-cosying humans' heads. In one work on paper a man and catman look welcomingly at each other - it's named Xenophilia. Cats have been sexed up in several bronzes: Fetish I, Fetish II, where Catherine puts anthropomorphic cats on literal pedestals, and Tallyho I & II. The male cat in these complementary sets has an incredibly long, cheerfully erect penis. No more thick, dumb ones hanging flaccidly between bowed legs like uvulas. In one particularly humorous bronze, titled D�j� Vu, a man on a bed stares with ridiculous horror at his perpendicular pole.
The two works that dominate the gallery are the 2.46 m high Piscivorous and Shark Eater sculptures. Piscivorous, though striking, isn't as disturbing as the other - the suited man puts a fish into his mouth with a hand, while in Shark Eater the toothy shark leaps down the man's throat. On the man's head is a helmet with torch attached. It infers �the deep', possibly about exploring dark parts of yourself, or, sociologically, the dangers of mining.
The shark is a far more unambiguously vicious creature than the snake, which Catherine still uses. In the bronze Penance I a man lies dozing in a bath as a snake snakes a question mark above him. It's dreamy and hypnotic. Penance II is nearly identical, except a shark arches over the sleeping man (ready to dive and attack). Penance II is placed below an oil called Melancholia, which shows the man in the bath wide awake and expectant (he even has a �welcome' mat out) as the shark bears down on him. Much more chilling.
There are few overtly political pieces in the show. Anamorphosis, an oil depicting an amphibious creature breathing through a radiator/ gas mask nose and clutching a Coke, could be interpreted as a comment on globalisation's effect on the environment. The large oil Hand to Hand, which shows a man with an attacking fire-breathing head-hand looking incredibly reluctant to retaliate (the man carries a knife, but also scars), could be both a personal and political metaphor for the cycle of violence. A lithograph called Joyride shows a �war dog' - evacuating blood and bones, covered in eyes and stab wounds, merged with two double-headed men and a tyrant with a ticking clock - having dropped its bloodied mask. The piece is very relevant to certain trigger-happy super-powers today.
There are more domestic themes in Catherine's work. Despite works like Group Therapy, he seems to have balanced himself. In the oil Conversations With Myself the big head - calm, pleased-looking, blue - chats to his �hand', an attentive little bright yellow head. Greenfingers is nothing more than an oil painting about the pleasures of growing plants. Even the slightly sinister Medium Rare - a stark red canvas, reminiscent of earlier work, showing a naked man sleeping/toasting in front of a fireplace - evokes something of the warmth of the hearth.
This is not a particularly smooth exhibition. Take, for example, Abduction, a work on paper featuring an alien. But in the main, the show is very Norman Catherine. And the bronzes are definitely worth going for.
Opens: November 16
Closes: December 21
Goodman Gallery, 163 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Tel: 011 788 1113
Fax: 011 788 9887
Hours: Tues - Fri 9.30 a.m - 5 p.m, Sat 9.30 a.m - 4 p.m