18 December 2019

The eternally surprising world of Reg Mombassa, landscape artist

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Close encounters of the First Kind

Close encounters of the First Kind, Reg Mombassa. Photo: Supplied.

You wouldn’t immediately think of Reg Mombassa, rockstar, standout t-shirt designer and cultural icon as a landscape painter, but in fact, that’s pretty much a defining theme of his career.

Walk through the 70 pieces in Psychedelic Realism at the ANU’s new aMBUSH Gallery and it’s apparent that the enduring theme is the land in all its manifestations, from the shadowy hillsides of the Megalong Valley to cloudbanks at Mt Victoria.

Longtime Mombassa fans should be reassured that many favourite ideas are well represented, from Australian Jesus at the footy to surfing thongs, vomiting robots and a maggoty horse inspecting business plans for a new smelter in the Hunter Valley.

The show includes pieces from Mombassa’s private collection and new work, as well as posters and original artwork from the time he spent with surf brand Mambo.

It’s all a space barbecue in Tamworth, if you will (also one of the works in the show).

Gumscape with Road and Creatures

Gumscape with Road and Creatures. Photo: Supplied.

Mombassa says he observes things all the time, drawing en plein air and out the car window.

“I’ve loved landscape since I was a teenager and I taught myself to paint by copying impressionist landscapes from art books,” Mombassa says.

“As well as allegorical narratives and weird Mambo stuff, the landscapes are in everything I paint and draw and they always have been. I like to put specific backgrounds from specific areas into my work.”

The Mombassa twist happens in the foreground, where a current preoccupation with robots is manifesting. Of works like Intoxicated vomiting robot 2, he notes: “Technological singularity is approaching, where artificial intelligence and nanotechnology means the robots might kill us all – either way it’s looking a bit grim.”

The self-described “gloomy catastrophist” held his first show at a major Sydney gallery in his early-20s, at about the same time as national fame hit with his art school band, Mental as Anything (Mombassa is grieving the loss of his longtime friend and bandmate Greedy Smith, and has postponed some planned student engagement at ANU until next year).

For most of his life, the twin creative pursuits of art and music have ebbed and flowed and the aMBUSH show is effectively a survey that dates back to a self-portrait from his first show at Watters Gallery, to landscapes made in the past few months.

Reg Mombassa

Reg Mombassa with self portrait. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

Of the handful of self-portraits in the show, including an Archibald finalist, Mombassa says “I’m not really a portrait painter, I just can’t be bothered finding a celebrity to paint so I do myself instead”.

Looking across works that date from 1974, Mombassa reflects on the sheer volume of his work and wonders whether it has essentially changed over that 45-year career. He thinks not.

“I was always preoccupied with the landscape but also frightened of humans and men in authority and hardline conservative values. I’ve always been critical of the patriarchy.

“I think artists reflect the world whether it’s completely abstract, your inner or outer world. You reflect on what you are anxious or deeply concerned with and that will go into your work somehow.

“I used to think I was lazy but maybe not!”

Psychedelic Realism is at aMBUSH Gallery in the Kambri precinct until 20 February 2020.

The exhibition is open free of charge to the public all summer, daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm weekdays, and 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm on weekends.

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Capital Retro2:14 pm 12 Dec 19

I met Reg in South America about 10 years ago and travelled on the same aircraft returning to Sydney.

He made friends with the “meet and greet” dogs at Sydney Airport. The man is a genius.

I’ll be getting down to check that out.

I have a print of Regs “Shrubs and Sandhill at Wamberal” hanging over the desk in my study at home.
I recognised the location as soon as I saw it.

As a young boy of 5, nearly 50 years ago, that was my view, and my goal, as my parents taught me how to swim in the lagoon.
I like to look at it now and remember the first time I crossed a body of water on my own, (without floaties), and stood on the other side, below that sandhill.

So thanks Reg.

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