The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa
by Murray Waldren
The name Reg Mombassa may not be recognizable to most New Zealanders but everyone has seen his exhibition which was one of the biggest art exhibitions of our time. He was the creative mind behind the weird and wonderful blow-up figures which filled Stadium Australia for the closing of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Reg was born Christopher O’Doherty, growing up on Auckland’s North Shore, going to Westlake Boys College and experiencing the highs and lows of teenage live in New Zealand in the late 1960’s.
From 1969 he started a new life in Australia becoming one of the countries foremost popular artists almost rivaling Ken Done with his iconic images. He achieved success not only as a visual artist but also as a member of the band Mental as Anything as well as the being the lead designer for Mambo which created unique designs for several decades.
The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa charts the artist’s life with huge chunks of interviews with Reg and his associates, providing something of an understanding of the evolution of a marvelous life.
From his unprepossessing origins with only slight indications of talent he achieved the sort of life that all bohemian artists and musicians aspire to; a life of debauchery, idealism, financial success and adulation.
His art is a quirky blend of, naive folk, political comment, surrealist landscape and autobiographical reflection. Many of his works have a similarity to the paintings of Nigel Brown who also uses autobiographical and landscape elements to form the basis of his work.
As well as the great triumph of designing the images for the Sydney Olympics the artists life it dotted with events, trivial and major; touring the USA, exhibiting in Europe and working with other major artist such as Elvis Costello who produced some of his records, or the likes of Johnny Rotten and Crowded House getting him to design record cover.
He even managed to show off his more perceptive side when he was the guest speaker for the the big McCahon exhibition, A Question of Faith when it opened in Sydney.
His frequently macabre and always distinctive designs for Mambo captured the imagination of another generation and are now collector's items. His whimsy is reflected in his idiosyncratic pop art and in the fine art landscapes sought after by collectors such as Australian writer Patrick White who bought a number of the artist’s works. Elton John is also one of his fans as are several New Zealanders who bought his works through exhibitions in Wellington at the Bowen Gallery.
The book is like a personal social diary, its pages full of the artist’s drawings, paintings and designs as well as images of the band and its successes. It also includes family photographs and the occasional poem by Reg so that there is a real sense of book trying to expose all the aspects of the man and his journey.
It is also a social document about the baby boomers who participated in the social and sexual revolution of the late twentieth century and engaged in trying to change the wold, opposing the Vietnam War and the political right.
The artist says in his introduction about the author, "Murray Waldren … has cleverly extracted a fair bit of information that I and others had nit previously revealed. He has done a wonderful job of researching, interviewing and then writing this impenetrable tangle of facts and observations into a coherent and readable whole."
Sun, 17 Jan 2010