Christopher "Chris" O'Doherty, also known by the pseudonym Reg Mombassa, is a New Zealand-born artist and musician. Resident in Australia, he is known there for both for his artworks and his musical exploits, as a founding member of the band Mental As Anything and member of Dog Trumpet (alongside his brother Peter O'Doherty). Worldwide, he is perhaps better known for his irreverent designs for surfwear company Mambo Graphics many of which were later adapted for use in a segment of the Sydney 2000 Olympics closing ceremony.
In Mombassa's words he is inspired by "the wind, semi-professional birthday clowns, heavy machinery and the behaviour of domestic animals". He is married with three children, one of whom is comedian Claudia O'Doherty, and lives in the Sydney suburb of Glebe.
Mombassa was born Christopher O'Doherty in Auckland, New Zealand, on 14 August 1951. O'Doherty, his parents and younger brother Peter immigrated to Sydney, Australia, in 1969. He enrolled in what is now the National Art School in Darlinghurst in 1969 but left the following year. He returned again in 1975 and obtained his Diploma of Painting in 1977. Between his stints at college and whilst there he supported himself with menial jobs such as builder's labouring, cleaning, house painting and working on the railways. In 1976 he formed the rock band Mental as Anything with four fellow art school students ostensibly to play art school parties. Whilst never intending to be a serious band, the Mentals, as they became known, eventually turned professional (after Mombassa's graduation from college) and went on to become one of Australia's most popular bands, touring widely in Australia and overseas.
Mombassa's artwork is in two distinctive styles. The type of artwork he designs for Mambo – almost cartoonish and in vivid colours, incorporating religious, political and popular culture themes – is probably the style he is most widely known for. However his landscapes and portraits, many of which are inspired by his childhood in New Zealand, are equally sought after. His artworks can be found in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Australia and other important regional galleries. The late Patrick White, Elton John and Ewan McGregor have all famously purchased his work.
Mombassa's first public showing was in a group exhibition held at Watters Gallery in Sydney in 1975 whilst he was still attending art college. It was at this exhibition that Patrick White purchased some works and subsequently became a patron, purchasing many others over his life. He first exhibited solo at Watters in 1986, the year he also began designing clothing for Mambo. His works were exhibited in three Mental as Anything collective exhibitions in 1982, 1990 and 1998. Further solo shows were held at Watters in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1998. Alongside posters, record covers and merchandise for Mental As Anything and Dog Trumpet, he has designed record covers for the likes of PIL, Crowded House, Mondo Rock and Paul Kelly. He has gifted artwork to many charitable and environmental organisations including Greenpeace and The Wilderness Society.
As Mombassa's artistic output and demand increased it prompted him to make the difficult decision to cease touring with the Mentals in April 2000. He has continued to design for Mambo and hold sellout exhibitions at Watters in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009.
In January 2000, a career retrospective of his work was held in Sydney at the S. H. Ervin Gallery. An 80-page catalogue was released by the National Trust to coincide with this exhibition. It also saw the release of "Golden Sandals" directed by Haydn Keenan, a documentary on Mombassa featuring animated versions of his artwork. In March 2007 his self-portrait was selected as a finalist in the Archibald Prize. 2 May 2007 saw the broadcast of "Golden Sandals" on SBS independent Australia. One of his most famous works was "Self-Portrait with Spots and Veins" (2003). He was also featured on the ABC TV profile show Talking Heads. In 2009 he was featured on BBC TV's Peschardt's People. In November 2009 Harper Collins released a biography by Murray Waldren called "The mind and times of Reg Mombassa", which includes over 200 art works.
In 2013 Mombassa was the creative ambassador for the New Year Eve Sydney fireworks, the theme was shine The centrepiece of Mombassa's contribution to the night was the unveiling of a single blinking eye on the Harbour Bridge gazing down on the 1.5 million revellers.
The origin of the name Reg Mombassa
In the early days of the Mentals, the band would often invent pseudonyms for each other that combined an exotic lastname with a common Australian firstname. "Reg Mombassa" was one of the products of that amusement. It is unknown if the extra "s" in Mombasa was deliberate or not. He has stated in interviews that some of his earlier pseudonyms included "Brett Orlando" and "Dorky Bladder".
In 1991, Mombassa formed the band Dog Trumpet with his brother Peter O'Doherty. Since leaving the Mentals this has been his sole musical outlet. Dog Trumpet has released five studio albums and two EPs. The band's latest album, Medicated Spirits was released in August 2013 and has been long-listed for the Australian Music Prize Album of the Year award for 2013.
Other music and movies
In 1987, with Peter, Martin Plaza and members of GANGgajang, Mombassa recorded a country music album credited to The Stetsons. He also supplied the iconic lead guitar in GANGgajang's 1985 hit The Sounds of Then.
- www.regmombassa.com, from the "aboutreg" section of Mombassa's personal website, accessed 15 February 2011
- Zuel, Bernard (29 June 2002). "Sentimental as anything". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- Browne, Rachel (8 April 2012). "At home with ... Reg Mombassa". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 November 2015.