In conversation with iconic Australian artist Reg Mombassa for ‘Psychedelic Realism’

Reg Mombassa (aka Chris O’Doherty) returned to Canberra to close his summer blockbuster exhibition – ‘Psychedelic Realism’ – at aMBUSH Gallery.

During a fascinating series of artist talks for students and the general public – held at Kambri in February 2020 – Reg Mombassa reflected on his early life, his interests, the themes in his work, his decorated career, and his latest exhibition, ‘Psychedelic Realism’, which enjoyed a three-month run at aMBUSH Gallery, Kambri.

The conversations were facilitated by Ruth Waller, an ANU School of Art and Design Professor, and Joseph Nuttal, an ANU School of Art and Design student.

‘Psychedelic Realism’ was a mammoth exhibition showcasing over 70 of the Sydney-based artist’s diverse pieces and consisted of his favoured forms and themes – suburban and rural landscapes, graphic works and absurd allegorical narratives.

Produced and presented by aMBUSH Gallery, and co-curated with Reg himself, the show was a dynamic collection of paintings, drawings, digital prints, etchings, and posters, created with mediums including acrylics, oils, charcoal, crayon, pencil and mixed media.

Visitors were able to see firsthand Reg’s incredible talent played out across the huge body of works: traversing the thoughtful and serene to the bizarre and ridiculous, as well as everything in between that happens to have crossed his unique mind.

Some works were completed as recently as late 2019, while others reach back through the decades to his days as a student, inspired by exploring the natural world around him, then later with his work for Mambo, which was often driven by the surrealist theory of free association.

The subject matters were wide-ranging and encompassed self-portraits (including the Archibald-nominated ‘Self-portrait with high pants’), and many recognisable and venerated characters from his prolific days as a Mambo artist, including Australian Jesus and Space Monster, plus robots, suburban houses, and landscapes inspired by his childhood in New Zealand and drives through the Australian countryside.

His plein air charcoal drawings and portraiture reveals a contemplative creative spirit that was often ignited while travelling the world with his popular rock band, Mental As Anything.

‘Psychedelic Realism’ was a dreamlike journey through landscapes, absurdity and sheer magic that made viewers thrill to the power of art again, thanks to the inimitable Reg Mombassa (aka Chris O’Doherty), one of Australia’s most loved and renowned artists.