Dualities - Norman Catherine at the Goodman
by Sue Williamson
Twenty years ago, in the mid eighties, Norman Catherine's prints, paintings and sculptures took on the grim side of South African society head on, lampooning the police and State, using a black humour and a sharpened brush to lacerate the monolithic structures of apartheid. By the mid nineties, Catherine was expanding the small scale of his metal sculptures into brilliantly-hued, larger than lifesize figures, open mouthed grimaces zipping down into their guts, a fist transformed into an aggressive second head which talked back at its owner - schizophrenia was always a favourite theme. And then there were the curiosity cabinets - shallow open shelves filled with rows of small brightly painted figures, a frenetic and crazy mix of hybrids from out of Africa. Looked great.
Still looks great coming into the Goodman Gallery some ten years later. Catherine's workmanship is always immaculate. But overly familiar. Particularly in the case of the curiosity cabinet piece which looked just like any number of other.similar works over the years. Like a retrospective rather than a show of new work.
But Catherine has not completely lost his groove. One of the sculptures stood out. An African minotaur with heavy lidded eyes and a bared-teeth grin, marvellously entitled Red Bull gives you Zooma. Wings suggested an ambition for an upwards trajectory.
The wings reappeared in a series of paintings in a side gallery, dark paintings in a palette which we have not seen from Catherine before, and seemed by consensus of the opening day crowd to be the most interesting on show.
In the surreal Night Watch, a sleeping man is observed by an eye in the pillow on which his head is lying. His alter ego? A dark spirit of the night? Catherine says he painted and repainted both eye and pillow numerous times before the right, chilling tension between the wakeful eye and the man was achieved. In Bed Fellows, a wolf has taken the place of that eye, and is somehow not as scary.
And then there is Deep End, in which a winged businessman is about to fall from a diving board. Like Icarus, his wings will not save him. These new paintings seem to expose Catherine's protagonists as more vulnerable and human than in the past, delving down further into the psyche while leaving some of the Catherine visual pyrotechnics behind. One waits with interest to see where this dark path will lead.
September 16 to October 7