Jul 12 – Aug 5, 2023

Following the success of his solo exhibition Head To Toe in Johannesburg, a second iteration of the exhibition has travelled down to Cape Town and will be on show from 12 July - 5 August at Everard Read Cape Town. 




Norman Catherine, defiantly unretired at 73

By Sean O’Toole


Norman Catherine has been a consistent presence in the South African art scene for over half a century. It is now 54 years since he presented his first solo exhibition in Johannesburg. Norman was just 20. His obvious facility with the medium of print compelled Cecil Skotnes, Norman’s earliest artistic hero, to find the art student from East London a venue to show his expressionist linocuts, a medium Norman has joyously returned to. Head to Toe, which surveys Norman’s print and sculpture editions, includes two hand-coloured linocuts, Adam and Eve (both 2023), in which this defiantly unretired artist further refines his signature iconography.

In the years since his 1969 debut exhibition, which was opened by Skotnes, Norman has made the arduous passage from Young Turk with an armoury of seditious visual ideas to elder statesman revered for his appetite for creative play. At 73, Norman recalls another of his artistic heroes, painter Robert Hodgins. A great deal has been written about Norman’s association with Walter Battiss, aka King Ferd III or WB Rex, less so Hodgins. Friends through Norman’s former dealer, Norman and Rob share a formal interest in colour and both have consistently applied themselves to the problem of the human figure, how to render it in ways that are neither cruel nor apologetic, of their times but not simply cartoons. As is well known, Rob busied himself on new work into his late 80s, until his death in 2010. Norman similarly remains committed to making.

Head to Toe, Norman’s first solo with Everard Read in a decade, evidences his commitment to graft, the pleasures that underpin revision, refinement and reinvention. The selection foregrounds his printmaking and sculpture. Norman’s earliest resolved work from the 1970s used these two media to conjure psycho-surreal depictions of human and animal subjects. The sculpture editions encompass work made since 2001 and the print selection gathers examples of Norman’s printmaking from the last 33 years. The timeline is truncated. Head to Toe provides a view of Norman’s output from South Africa’s topsy-turvy democratic era.

The earliest work in the exhibition is a drypoint and acquatint print titled Tally Ho (1990). The composition features a crowded assembly of Norman’s beefy, saw-tooth characters typical of his work from the 1980s and 90s. One of these men rides a six-eyed pony in a gesture reminiscent of Sydney Kumalo’s Mythological Rider (1970) series of bronzes. Printmaking and sculpture, while dimensionally dissimilar, are connected through their reliance on collaboration. In an exhibition largely devoted to Norman’s editions, it is important to address the role of teamwork.

Norman refined his printmaking skills through his early collaborations with Battiss, Bruce Attwood, Robert Westenberg and Malcolm Christian, who in 1983 invited Norman to experiment with the University of the Witwatersrand’s silkscreening equipment. It culminated in a 34-screen image. Head to Toe includes an important example of a silkscreen by Norman’s hand, Curriculum Vitae (1993) – it details key moments in Norman’s early life, including the number of lashings he received as a schoolboy (350). Norman printed all his own silkscreens throughout the 1990s. A suite of 2014 silkscreens– among them Armed Response and Homo Opuntia – were printed by Claudia Hartwig of Chocolate Ink Studio, who Norman met while working on linocuts at Artist Proof Studio. Other notable prints in the exhibition include Eye to Eye (1991), Norman’s first linocut since art school in the late 1960s, and Headman (1991), his first stone litho, printed by Mark Attwood.

Norman’s earliest sculptures frequently used found objects: customised fibreglass shop window mannequins (Lip Service, 2016, is a descendent of these works), bathroom fixtures and garden taps, which Norman later fitted with resin testicles for his sexually suggestive Tapticle series (1974). Over time, he has extended his repertoire from fibreglass to painted wood and, latterly, bronze. Norman has collaborated with a number of foundries. They include Workhorse Bronze Foundry and sculptor Angus Taylor’s Dionysus Sculpture Works, where he produced the monumental bronze Head to Toe (2022).

This contorted figure in a suit, whose head is seemingly collapsed by its weight, traces its origins back to a series of psychologically themed paintings from the mid-1980s. Norman refined these anxious and wounded figures with extended limbs, giving them bulk in a series of paintings from the 90s before reimagining them in a series of vibrant, painted-wood sculptural assemblies. Modelled in clay, Head to Toe is richly textured, its surface a landscape of graphic incisions. This close-up and haptic detail is fundamental to an appreciation of all Norman’s bronzes, whose corroded colour also provide a reprieve from the abundant colour of his prints. “I don’t miss the colour,” says Norman, hinting at a possible direction for the stately and large-scale work of his poised late period.


Installation images by Michael Hall