Born in New Zealand in 1951, he immigrated to Australia with his family in 1969. He attended the National Art School, Sydney 1969-70 and returned to art school in 1975 to obtain his diploma of painting in 1977.
In 1976 he formed the rock band ‘Mental as Anything’ with four other art students. He toured with them and exhibited with them at the same time.
He has worked closely with Mambo Graphics since 1986 designing t-shirts and posters.
Established in 1984 by Dare Jennings and Andrew Rich, the Mambo label began as a backyard business screenprinting T-shirts for a small niche market in surfwear. The mix of surf culture, art and music influences resonated with Australian youth who loved the notoriety and controversy the designs characteristic of Mambo aroused in conservative middleclass Australia.
The designs were vibrant, humorous, irreverent and of questionable taste but had broad appeal with youth both in Australia and overseas. The disintegration of accepted motifs and conventions, the portrayal of anti-realist and anti-rational popular iconography combined with imagery typifying Australian suburbia dominate Mambo designs.
Reg states that he loves his work to be funny, spirtuality uplifting or educational. Many of his Mambo works feature long format text showcasing his flair for the written word alongside his artistic talents. A lot of Reg’s work has caused quite the drama. From threats from Christians fire bombing the old Mambo store on Oxford Street for a gay Jesus in the window to his posters being discussed in the upper house for their commentary on the refugee situation.
The posters reveal that beneath the humour and amusing parodies, lies incisive insight, sympathy and expression of serious social concern.
Reg’s work has way ahead become the instantly recognizable iconography of Mambo and thus the contemporary Australian t-shirt and from there been at the forefront of Australian larrikin art.
Certainly with his series of paintings of the Australian Jesus, the bestower of pies and beer to the masses. He formalizes the ocker rituals, enshrining Australian middleclass as the bastions of cultural identity with pseudo-religious icon art of BBQs and Bondi landscapes.
Australian pop culture owes a lot to Reg Mombassa who has melded the styles of fine art and commercial design to create a pop surrealist identity that has achieved a status as the branding of twentieth century Australian suburbia. He is the jester as cultural hero.