Artist and Mambo progenitor Paul McNeil is still goofy after all these years. He spoke to Tony Stanton about life, love and his latest show.
Paul McNeil – where is you place in art history?
At the front of the line at the bar, possibly buying a drink for Picasso and Keith Haring. Then I walk back to their table and they say: “Sorry, someone’s sitting here.” Yeah that’s my place in art history.
Who really started Mambo, and when did you know it was all over?
Visually Richard Allan started the whole thing rolling. One guy with so many ideas and the ability to execute them. Absolutely fantastic and cutting edge in everything he touched. Mambo over? It seems to keep rolling on in some form. I think the artists never considered it starting or ending, it’s their art and soul and life, that stuff never ends. We are all still doing art.
What’s Art Park?
Art Park is an Art brand/concept I started with my mate Craig Rochfort in Byron Bay in 2010. A gallery, a clothing label, a magazine and Artist residency. It’s been fun introducing a lot of new art into our small town. It was my main aim when I moved up there, that and surfing!
Where did the irreverence come from?
It comes from the need to make people think a little bit more. We are living in very controlled times, no one rebels against anything. Bring back Punk Rock!!
Who did you grow up reading?
Superhero comics and all that. Anything colourful! Plus I really dug Chopper and Hot Rod magazines. Books didn’t come along until later but I did recall being petrified reading The Exorcist.
What else were you into as a nipper?
As a kid all I did was ride my bike, all day every day. Then skateboards came along and consumed me. That was it. Growing up in New Zealand … it’s very easy to get wrapped up in sports. Skiing at five years old. Surfing at 10. The mountains and the beach are minutes away.
What did your parents do?
Dad was a butcher, mum was a florist/dressmaker. I guess that’s where I get my animalistic/sensitive personality from.
What posters did you have on your wall when you were a kid?
I had a Bridgette Bardot poster (and I had no idea who she was, but strangely it felt good to look at her). Then Golden Breed surf posters and probably Neil Young too.
Thongs (sandals/flip flops) because that means I’m somewhere hot!
Favourite cartoon character?
The Phantom comic character has some incredible personality traits, but I’m just as happy with Homer or Peter Griffin.
Can you recite a line of poetry to us?
Yes I can. It’s a lyric of a Go-Betweens song but all good lyrics are poetry.
It’s written in big letters
Graffiti all over town
It says troublemakers on the run
And both our names are written down
Oh but infamy or fame
Each came in a small dose
I just wish the day would come
When the last one would be so close
If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would it be and why?
Everyone says smell to this question, right? I go to so many gigs and nowadays they don’t allow smoking so people farting at these events is a real problem. Yeah, smell.
How would you classify your art?
I hope it appears to be poppy and funny, but I also know it’s loaded with an element of truth and darkness. I’m trying to say something in the simplest form. It’s taken years to hone that skill.
How long did it take to put together the Still Goofy show?
It took a few weeks. I’ve been doing back-to-back shows for one year so I have been continually painting. Tokyo was one week before my Bali show so I have been painting about 50 paintings for all my shows. Been quite exhausting but hey, it’s what I love.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who added some colour and humour to a grey world.
You’ve done artwork for The Beastie Boys, Lemonheads, Sonic Youth … the list goes on and on. Who is the greatest of them all, and can we have a rock anecdote please!
Where do I start. Ok so I did a Rolling Stones poster last year so I guess that they are the greatest, right? But on a personal level I get absolutely thrilled to work with bands that I love. Cool bands that have shaped and inspired my life – Smog, The Clean, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jnr., Pavement. My buddy who is a promotor said to me: “Paul I’m bringing Nirvana out to Aus again next year … I want you to do the poster.” I thought, oh cool, that’s a big deal, I’d better think up something REALLY GOOD. But then Kurt died. That’s not a very happy anecdote, is it? Murray from the Wiggles always says hello to me. (That’s better, right?
What’s most important to you in life?
Having laughs with friends backstage at rock festivals.
If you had your time again what would you do differently?
I would have figured out what I really wanted to do earlier in my life and pursued it then. Older people always say, “you can’t do that” … but you can. Start doing pointlessly awesome stuff now and don’t stop!
Paul, you’re a legend. Thanks so much for your time.