Christopher O’Doherty, also known as Reg Mombassa, is a musician and artist who exhibited with the highly regarded Watters Gallery from 1975 to 2018, when it closed. He designed graphics for ‘Mambo’ and collaborated with 3:33 Art Projects and Clayton Utz earlier this year. He is socially conscious and rebellious. His work captures our attention with a witty, joyous and biting lens through which we can view Australian culture, its charm and failings. As such, the first few remarkable months of 2020 from bush fires to the pandemic have seen the artist leaning into his feelings of ‘alarm and anxiety’, and expressing this through art.
Reg Mombassa in the studio with his new self-portraits, 2020
In his many decades of practice, Mombassa has held solo and group art shows in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, USA, France, Britain, China and Thailand. The artist had a survey show at the S.H. Ervin Gallery in 2007 and Manly Gallery and Museum in 2018 with his brother Peter O’Doherty. His designs were featured in the Closing Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, and he designed the graphics for the 2013 Sydney New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Earlier this year you exhibited with 3:33 Art Projects in the Clayton Utz Art Partnership, what is special about the collaboration?
The unique appeal of working with 3:33 Art Projects is twofold; the artist’s work is exposed to an audience that doesn’t necessarily have the time or inclination to visit commercial galleries, and two, because of the office settings and length of the shows people get to look at and live with artworks over a longer time frame than a normally brief visit to a commercial or public gallery allows the viewer.
Has the continuation of conservative politics in Australia, and abroad, as it applies to the environment, arts, equality and so on affected the current narrative in your work? What new themes has this raised for you?
There aren’t really any new themes. Throughout human history we have generally been governed by a ruthlessly unjust hierarchical patriarchy that has put its own interests above those of the rest of the population. From aristocratic warriors through to religious leaders and now big business and the politicians who support them nothing has changed. Skepticism, fear, resentment and a desire to mock the terrible absurdity of these aspects of human society and behaviour have always been a part of my work.
Reg Mombassa, Australian Jesus with eyes popped out, 2016, edition of 20 , digital print on canvas, 147 x 109cm
Your practice is diverse and there are points of entry for the viewer in humour, iconography, a bold and colourful aesthetic, glitter, drawing, printmaking and fashion; what is the relationship between your creative choices and messaging?
There is no specific desire on my part to impart a message of any sort. Landscapes are relatively straightforward renditions of aspects of the landscape that interest or inspire me and are generally en plein air drawings or paintings and drawings derived from my own reference photographs or from my en plein air drawings. The more graphic pictures or allegorical narratives make references to popular culture, history, politics and religion but there is no specific message I am trying to impart. Things that happen in the world may horrify me or make me angry but I am just expressing that, and hopefully my observations may resonate with some of my fellow humans. I don’t expect any of the opinionated ranting that may appear in some of my work, to change anyone’s mind about anything.
What is the role of art in these exceptional times?
All times are exceptional to the people who live through them. Artists make things that express their reaction to their inner and outer worlds and that has never changed. The current high level of global unease and anxiety is obviously being reflected on by many artists, but I doubt that it will improve the situation. Until the human race can miraculously transform its consciousness from the current poisonous stew of patriarchal dominance, militarism, ruthless under-regulated capitalism, idiotic nationalistic patriotism and violently irrational religious belief we are doomed to extinction.
What’s coming up for you next?
More online Facebook concerts with my band Dog Trumpet and hopefully an art show with Rogue Pop-Up Gallery later in the year.
Reg Mombassa, Bones, poles and wires, 2015, etching with aquatint, 74 x 51cm
Reg Mombassa is represented by Rogue Pop-up Gallery, Sydney
This article is presented in collaboration with 3:33 Art Projects