Video: MCW x Reg Mombassa

He is one of Australia’s most iconic and influential contemporary artists and musicians, with a body of work that has spanned over 30 years. Everyone knows or heard of him under his synonym name Reg Mombassa; well known for being a key member of the band ‘Mental as Anything’, his creative ambassador role with Sydney NYE 13 celebration, Sydney Olympic Games 2000 and most notably his design work for Fashion label Mambo.

We have the privilege to sit down with Reg to delve into his early days at art school, how his ideas evolve in his head, where his inspiration comes from and the importance of music and art to him as a creative.


View full transcript below:

“Some things just pop into your head. I don’t know where it comes from I guess a lot of it comes in the fact that you have always been interested in music and art and you know looked at books and seen films and just like being inspired by the beauty of the world and the interestingness of other humans and animals. The creative thing between music and art it comes in the same place I think; even though the forms are quite different.”


When did you discover your creative talents in art & music?

Music and Art always been important to me. I mean I’ve been playing an instrument since I was about 15. Well actually earlier than that. I had a few piano lessons when I was 12 so I used to fiddle around with my mother’s electric organ a bit and I’ve been drawing since I was three years older as soon as I could hold a pencil basically. Both are very important and some of the themes that interest me on the visual art side are also sort of reflected in some of the song lyrics and some of the songs that I write. So there is a definite relation between the two forms. 

I taught myself to paint as a teenager by copying paintings out of art books. Mainly impressionist paintings like Sisley, Monet, Van Gogh and Cezanne. This taught me how to mix paints. By the time I got to art school; you do life drawing and stuff like that which helps your drawing abilities. I could paint and draw by the time I actually got to art school. As you get older you obviously learn new things and you refine your approach to some extent. By the time I was offered commercial jobs, working for Mambo and doing record covers for other bands I had an idea of what I wanted to do. 

How would you consider your style?

A lot of stuff I do is really absurd buffoonery. I mean that’s the job of an artist to some extent is to be a demented buffoon. To lurk on the edge of society; something of an outsider and that’s part of the job description which I try to reflect that in what I do to some extent. I mean I’m serious about being a clown and a buffoon however at the same time it’s a serious business, but it’s also a ridiculous occupation as well. 

You’ve had an endless list of achievements. What would you consider to be your biggest?

Doing the Olympics was a fairly large one man show having the inflatables going around at the Closing ceremony. Someone pointed out to me that it was one of the biggest shows on earth. There was a couple hundred million people watching it. You don’t think about that stuff too much beforehand because it might make you feel a little constricted but that was a nice moment. 

And I guess to some extent the New Year’s Eve party a lot of people also watched that. Although for me the more interesting thing was doing the banners around town which would have been seen by the local people. I really enjoyed having the banners because they were up for about a month or so. Just seeing the pictures hung up along the street was nice to see as you drove around. 

What do you appreciate most about being a creative?

I do really appreciate the fact that I got to be an artist and a musician. A lot of people who have some talent for doing these things, don’t necessarily get the opportunity to actually do it and to make a living out of it. 

My father he was supposed to go to art school when he was 16. He had a scholarship in Ireland to go to art school but his father died very suddenly so he had to get a job. He was apprenticed out as a carpenter and that’s what he did for the rest of his life. Even though he did a little bit of Sunday painting and he made toys and things like that. However he never got to express his artistic talent and I did. So I really appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to do it.

Being both an artist and musician, what would you say is one of the biggest differences between the two art forms?

Big difference between art and music is that music you are doing it with other people whereas art is more of a solitary thing. You’re stuck inside your own head which is difficult at times. Obviously with music, unless you’re completely a solo performer you’re generally playing with bands. I’ve been playing with other people so you are also able to relate directly to an audience when you are playing live. So it’s definitely a little less of a solitary pursuit than art. 

I quite like being inside my own head and there are other times I really enjoy playing with other musicians. Playing with a good band is a fantastic thing to do. Playing live to an audience that’s appreciating what you’re doing is a great thing. The audience definitely contributes to the creative energy or whatever happens to be going on when you are playing. 

Is there one medium you prefer?

I like both things; I like to be stuck in my own head and also like relating to people to some extent. 

What do you want your audience to take away from your work?

The things that interest you and obsess you, you try to represent in some way either literally or abstractly. You want people to maybe notice those things and appreciate them as you do. 

I mean I think so much of sort of human and animal life is kind of sad really. Animals and humans eventually will get sick and die. All the people they know and love will also get sick and die. That’s the big sort of catch 22 of being alive and enjoying it I guess. I mean a lot of things that go on in the world are kind of disturbing and sad. But at the same time are also fantastic and joyous and endlessly entertaining and interesting.

“I guess there is a certain gloomy loneliness in my pictures and songs but also hopefully something relatively cheerful as well. Just the fact that someone might be interested in what I do appreciate in some way, I value very highly.”

Reg Mombassa 


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