This essay was originally commissioned by Linda Givon of the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. The first movement -
"Escape and Resolution" - served as the preface for the first major retrospective on the artist, published by the Goodman Gallery in 2000 and was simply titled "Norman Catherine". The foreword was by David Bowie who in addition to being a pop icon is also an art collector and critic. The main text is by Hazel Friedman. My essay, including the opening movement, is published here for the
first time in full. Its purpose is to trace Catherine's journey over a period spanning thirty years to locate the key dimension of
laughter and assess the nature of its artistic expression and formal resolution. The second movement - "States of Emergency" - situates the work within a South African context. The third movement re-evaluates the tendency of locating the artist - and South African art in general - within a framing colonial/apartheid legacy. Through the critical prism of Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae, the third movement - "Energy and Form" - asks that we assess Catherine's work within the primal conflict between Apollo and Dionysus. The final movement - "City Deep" - returns Catherine to the secular domain and examines his output in relation to a post-apartheid, inner city, and trans-national domain. At once "primitive and futuristic", Catherine's art, through the distinctiveness of its style, foregrounds laughter and terror as the Janus-faced signature of our time.
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