Coffee Table Book:

Art of Darkness

.... the political context in which Catherine was working during the early and mid 70s postdates the distinctive stylistic shifts in his paintings, graphics and mixed media work. In short, even before South Africa exploded into the maelstrom of repression and resistance heralded by the Soweto student revolt of 1976, Catherine's iconography was becoming more overtly political as demonstrated in Premonition of War (1974). This suggests Catherine's premonition of an era of political calamity, leading to the 80s States of Emergency and ultimately, liberation in the 90s.

In works executed after 1976, such as Tailored Disguise, Memorial and Man Made (1977) Catherine's eerie sense of crisis and carnage was enhanced. In Memorial, for example, an amputated mutilated torso is impaled on the pole of a wire fence like an obscene crucifix. From his side protrudes a porcupine quill. It is vaguely reminiscent of the sword that pierced Christ's side as he hung from the cross. The torso's head and facial features are swathed in a black and white striped bandage, evoking the appearance of a mummy. And his exposed chest, with its exaggerated chiaroscuro, bears neat parallel striations or lacerations, as though he has recently been flagellated. He is victim and martyr, a totem of tragedy like the disarmed figure in Tailored Disguise. In the latter work the concept of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' is taken to bizarre proportions. A figure is camouflaged by a florid oxygen mask with inhalation plugged by a horn. He gazes blindly, impotently, through bandaged goggles. He has been muzzled. He is neither able to record nor articulate the horror he has witnessed, or to which he has been subjected.

These works provide insight into the technical, formal and expressive shifts that Catherine's art underwent in response to a damaged and destructive society. In his efforts to articulate his outrage towards the absurdity of the South African situation, he began stretching the parameters of both his own and the viewer's perception. It is impossible to avoid a political reading of these works. Their abject forms have been violated and brutally silenced. While not lifeless, they have been deprived of life, stunted, demeaned and defeated. In these works, motifs which recur throughout his oeuvre -- childhood games, nursery rhymes and proverbs, dismembered body parts, zebra-stripes, bandages, barbed wire, sausages and the ritualistic totemic, anthropomorphic forms -- provided pointers to a racially-cleaved, morally disfigured world.

But Catherine's imagery did not remain in the realm of political polemic, even though such a reading provides the most accessible point of entry. Its symbolism also resided in the realm of the unconscious. It burrowed among the more layered realms of shifting dualities. And like a mole suddenly surfacing from its subterranean shelter, his imagery served to rupture the ostensibly seamless surfaces of appearance, dogma and ritual.