Norman Catherine: Now and Then

19 January 2006

One of South Africa’s most iconoclastic artists, Norman Catherine, is holding a retrospective of his 35-year career at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Now and Then will highlight his works of fantastic and surreal semi-humans, all presented in vivid colour.

Born in East London in 1949, Catherine had no formal arts training. A sign-writer for a while, he became a protege of artist Walter Battiss.

Catherine’s art career began in 1969 when he held his first solo exhibition, consisting of oil paintings on wood, bone, wire and an assortment of found objects.

Mixed media
This eclectic use of media has since become a Catherine trademark. Now and Then consists of some of the artist’s work with airbrush, oil, fibreglass sculptures, wood, bronzes and mixed media.

It is the fibreglass sculptures for which he is best known. Vivid larger-than-life figures that dwarf the viewer, many of them are close to three metres tall.

“My inspiration comes from music, movies, my dreams. My own experiences of being trapped, stitched up from accidents, have found their way into my work,” Catherine told the Sunday Times in 2000.

“I’m just inventing another world of creatures and the human face.”

British rocker David Bowie owns several of Catherine’s works, and wrote the foreword for a book on Catherine, published before an earlier exhibition at Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery.

Norman Catherine: Middleman
Norman Catherine’s Middleman
(Image: Norman Catherine)

Velcro and Teflon
“In short,” wrote Ashraf Jamal in the introduction to Catherine’s monograph, “Catherine is an artist who defies neat description in terms of iconography and medium.

“He is simultaneously Velcro and Teflon. Influences attach themselves to his work like dust particles. Yet he also shakes them off with equal ease, leaving the viewer with the raw visceral impact of his imagery, striking in a place where a laugh and a gasp are indistinguishable.”

Says Catherine, “I try to capture those moments where things aren’t quite what they seem.”

Now and Then is on at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, cnr. Klein and King George Streets, Joubert Park, from 29 January to 31 March. Tel: (011) 725 3130

SouthAfrica.info reporter