Coffee Table Book:

Anima Animus Animate

In the Wizard of Oz the Wicked Witch of the West gets her just desserts and Dorothy and Toto return to their home in Kansas from which they were forcibly removed by a tornado. In South Africa the long-awaited, tirelessly fought for, democracy becomes a reality. Let us call it the beginning of a new era of possibilities...

For artists this era presents an ongoing dilemma. Under apartheid, cultural identity was constricted and controlled. Now the freedom to choose and re-invent identities represents South Africa's greatest challenges. And as they make the transition from struggle culture to post-apartheid artistic individualism, artists are now free to tell previously untold histories. For those who employed art as a weapon of struggle, there is now the imperative of shifting from a dystopian vision to a utopian one. The South African postmodern dream entails an investment of desire in the future. It demands an upbeat embrace of new cultural connections in the service of the rainbow nation. But the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is proving elusive.

But Catherine's post-apartheid work seems remarkably free of this conflict. He participates in group exhibitions such as the 1990 'Voices From South Africa, Contemporary Art Against Apartheid,' at the Stuart Levy Gallery in New York. But in this show his art does not aim to resolve, absolve or effect reparation. It refuses to be subsumed by any specific didactic truth. In 1991 Catherine holds another solo exhibition at the Goodman Gallery. This earns him the 3rd Quarterly prize -- together with fellow South African artist Andries Botha -- in the annual, formerly, AA Vita Vita Art Now Competition. At the awards ceremony, his art is praised for its 'unpretentious irreverence', its 'unselfconscious individualism and its refusal to toe the utopian political line.' (2) Recurring refrains in his post 1990 works include the spread of corporate crime and bureaucratic subterfuge. In works such as Artist Asleep (1993) and Malicious Intent (1994) he targets city violence, suburban psychosis and the shadowy underworld.

These works are not necessarily expressions of pessimism. Well before the machinations of liberation were officially in progress, Catherine was poking his tongue at institutions rather than ideologies, at the corruption of power as opposed to specifically corrupt acts. This was very much the case in works such as Boss (1985), Minister of Manpower (1987) and Official (1990). In many respects his post-apartheid output reflects his ongoing suspicion of political bureaucracies, be they old or new. But as Ashraf Jamal observes:
'A mutation has occurred [in Catherine's work]. Gone are the raw expressions of fear and fury that allow no catharsis. For Catherine the dulled sense of crisis and despair spawned by the states of emergency imposed on the country by the apartheid government in the 1980s has fallen away. What has surfaced in its place is a growing awareness of inner-city psychosis caused by escalating violence, the burgeoning underworld of gangsterism and the spread of corporate corruption and subterfuge.'(3)

Catherine's creatures seem to be playing out the primal conflicts between what Jungian scholars would term the anima and animus.(4) These terms represent the masculine and feminine aspects of the contrasexual psyche. These states result from an accumulation of archetypal, biological and sociological factors. Generally, a man's anima and a woman's animus may be defined as their feminine and masculine sides, respectively serving as potential guides to the depth of the unconscious. But the anima and animus are unlikely to be experienced directly since they are inherently opposed to the dominant attitude of consciousness. They are projected into relationships particularly with the sexual other. Unless they are resolved or synthesised they are experienced primarily as states of unresolved conflict.

Catherine's imagery is predominantly gender-specific. He constantly depicts males assuming the forms of castrated monsters. When the female is present she is principally seen in the symbolic sense, through Catherine's technicolour depictions of nature. But more often than not, mother nature is no nurturer. In Catherine's work nature is not a pastoral paradise. It is either an anarchic jungle, a toxic wasteland, the site of grotesque experiments or a battle zone where primal conflicts of power and powerlessness are played out.

Although hermaphrodites do appear in Catherine's work - forms with breasts as well as male genitalia - Catherine's forms are predominantly male.

[Catherine] Women are less aggressive than men and less desirable as objects of parody. Monsters in movies - unless they are witches - are all men, and man's actions dominate history and govern the world. This makes them more susceptible to satire. Men and their penises symbolise the patriarchal, macho system on which notions of power are based. Depiction of the penis is also something of taboo even within the context of so-called sexually progressive attitudes. My repeated depiction of penises therefore pokes fun at this taboo and turns traditional symbols of power into objects of ridicule and fun. If their power is deactivated, so is the fear they generate.

But for Catherine the penis also serves, literally, as a formal device. It is both prop and tail - more a comical device than a serious exploration or critique of sexual conflict and power. Men, he seems to re-iterate, are simply beasts with hang downs, as well as hang ups.

And therein lies the rub, so to speak. Tempting as it is to meander through the forests of metaphysics and meaning in Catherine's work, there exists the danger of not distinguishing the proverbial wood for the trees. Catherine, it must be remembered, operates from instinct and irony, transforming his senses into a carrier bag of profound concepts and trivial trinkets. Always the twain shall meet.

And throughout, the influence of pop culture and a street-smart sensibility pervade his work. The shamelessly decadent Hotel Paradiso (1994), for example, is a secular pre-millennial interior variation of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Bathed in a cheap, gaudy neon-like glow, his characters seem to have emerged from the shadowy nooks and crevices of the urban and metaphysical underworld. Four-legged hustlers in homburg hats, hookers and harlequins mingle in this den of iniquity, located in a non site-specific netherland. Even the devil makes a guest appearance. He is accompanied by a creature of the witching hour. But this is no modern day morality play nor a painterly treatise on good versus evil. It is the meeting of the personae -- imaginary, hallucinatory and real -- who have crossed paths and swords with the artist in one guise or another.

'People can take what they want from my work. My approach is intuitive, emotional. Much of it has a sense of the absurd. Yet there is some semblance of sense in the apparent madness, which people recognise and even identify with. My art is a never-ending story in which I constantly articulate as many characters and personae embroiled in the plot as possible. They are mementoes, reminders, and curiosities. They occupy a world of their own, allowing me the freedom to be as flippant and self-indulgent as I desire.'