This Sunday we are looking at an Australian icon, Reg Mombassa.
Reg Mombassa and his love for the landscape:
Amy Chaplin, 03/10/2020
Reg Mombassa, Beachside barbecue, charcoal and coloured pencil on paper, 2015.
Chris O’Doherty, famously known by his pseudonym Reg Mombassa or as the Mambo artist is a New Zealand born, Australian artist.
Mombassa was a prolific artist from a teenager, constantly drawing his surroundings, often through the view of a window. Mombassa is also a poet and skilled musician, he founded the famous Aussie pop-rock band, Mental As Anything and is still performing in his band Dog trumpet, a soft-rock band with his brother Peter O’Doherty.
Commonly known for his more graphic style of art used in his Mambo designs. Mambo which was a popular street and surfwear brand in the 90s and 2000s. This graphic art was used as an avenue for Reg to comment on religious, political and pop culture themes through his art as well as depict the Australian lifestyle. The art style used was very figurative with sketched qualities and vivid colours. What most people are unaware of is that Mombassa was also very committed to paintings and has painted and exhibited many landscapes throughout his career.
Mombassa started painting landscapes early on in his teenage years while he was still living in Auckland and continued once he immigrated with his family to Sydney. His landscapes vary from rural to suburban as well as from New Zealand to Australian. His work often draws inspiration from his childhood landscape of the native fauna and flora and even childhood neighbourhoods in New Zealand. Most of his art started from sketches done while traveling, observing out the window on family road trips and continued to bus trips with his rock band. One could view his landscapes as an interpretation of his own life history, he focused on bringing out the extra-ordinary out of the everyday and covered everything in his life.
Reg Mombassa, Organism, House paint and oil on board, 1991.
“The picture is called organism because a house and the people living in it have a distinct existence as a separate organism. The spaces in and around a house become charged with the movements and psychological activities of the people living in them.”
The Mambo designs developed their own very unique and recognizable style overtime and the designs are still iconic to Australians today. Mombassa used more of a variety of styles with his landscapes, although all this very recognizable to himself, he painted in styles ranging all the way from traditional oil painted landscapes to semi-surreal and most outlandish and comically cartoonish depictions of the future of the world once nature had reclaimed earth.
The Landscapes often have focal subject matter, Mombassa liked many different things, urban elements; roads, vehicles, power poles and stations and factories as well as purely natural and rural elements; rolling hills, gum trees and trunks and rural stations and scenes. His Landscapes focused on his way of life as an Antipodean; creating a creature that appeared in many of his paintings, the kangaroo, a mixture of a kiwi and a kangaroo. He started drawing suburbia as that was what he could see from his window, all his homes were on the outskirts of cities, in the suburban surroundings. His father was a builder and mother designer, so they moved into the new homes his father was building and moved every two or three years.
Many landscapes done of his own homes were done as metaphysical portraits of his father. As his father had built and painted the homes he now sat, admired and painted. Mombassa was also fascinated by old black and white photographs as a child and aimed to paint paintings that had the same representational qualities of old photographs, or ones taken by him on carboard cameras on road trips or even cut outs from real estate advertisements.
Reg Mombassa, Bush Suburbs, charcoal and coloured pencil on paper, 2002.
Mombassa is a man who never took many things too seriously, the pop rock band he founded, Mental As Anything was started as a joke with art school friends on the premiss to get invited and play at house parties. They continued playing together for the enjoyment until they unintentionally became famous across Australia and could start touring internationally. Their single “Live It Up” peaked at No. 3 in the UK and topped the charts in Europe and North America after it featured in the 1986 Australian film Crocodile Dundee. Early on in the band formations they all decided to go by pseudonyms; starting with a common Aussie first name and ending with an exotic second name. Mombassa originally went as “Brett Orlando” and eventually the “Reg Mombassa” stuck. As Mombassa’s artistic demand increased he had to make the hard decision to stop touring with the band after 25 years of performing. He continued designing graphics and even holding exhibitions for his Mambo designs however his passion to paint and draw landscapes dominated.
“I’m frightened of humans, but I like landscapes.”
He is a man who avoided labelling and ‘fame’ most his life, he has never fed into the fact that he is one of Australia’s most recognisable artist, he has simply continued creating and painting for the joy and discovery. Reg is now 69 his most recent sold out show was in 2014, he is now married with children and lives a very different life to his one in New Zealand. Reg now resides in the inner most suburbs of Sydney, in a home very different to the ones he draws.
Next Sunday will feature an interview with an artist who has travelled the world with his unique form or work. Watch this space!