Mick Lambrou is an illustrative painter from Melbourne, Australia.

He recently held an exhibition in The Brunswick Street Gallery titled, Mystery Train – The 1950s. This exhibition depicted retro pop icons with an enigmatic edge and a dauntingly noir appearance. However, Mick Lambrou insists that this was not actually a purposeful tone. Rather, it possibly stems from illustrations in comic books which are liberal in their use of shadows and colour schemes, and were influential to Mick’s own style.

He explained, “I’ve always been interested in drawing since I could pick up a pencil and reading comics always made me want to draw better”These pop icons from our not-so-distant past have been immortalised by art for decades, yet Mick manages to capture each in such an original and nostalgic way, it is like seeing them for the first time. I joined Mick for a beer where we discussed his exhibition and shared a love of the 50s.

Mick Lambrou

You’re a self-taught artist, how did you go about learning to paint?

Trial and error, really. The comic book stuff only went so far. I did quite a bit of work with local publishers, which kind of fizzed out because about 8 years ago my dad said “why don’t you try and paint something” and back then I thought, “Oh that’s kind of like an old man sort of thing”. So I wasn’t really that interested. But then I found some paints at home – I don’t know who’s they were or how they got there, but I just started painting! I started with oil paints which are really hard to use, then switched back to acrylics because I lived in an apartment and it smelled like turpentine. I was getting a bit goofy off the fumes.  

What do you think about the role of pop culture in art?

Huge! It dictates what is popular. Certain iconic images – like that Che Guevara picture that’s still everywhere – have become immortal through pop culture. And the Marilyn Monroe painting by Andy Warhol, Banksy is pretty huge now too. It’s very important, except I’m going backwards in mine.

Every painting in this exhibition has a specific colour scheme and light source, where the subjects almost meld into the background while still remaining as the dominant focus, how did you create this effect?

I did that on purpose. There’s an Australian still-life painter – his name is Robert Hagan – who said that the most important thing about a painting is the light source. So I always try to have two sources of light: one natural and one colour. That way you get a distinct dimension. I’ve always blended the character into the background and found that it draws the focus on their face rather than anything else.

What is your relationship with horror-themes? The Vincent Price picture is pretty scary!

I tried to do the Vincent Price picture like an old movie poster. The house on the hill looks like a skull and the bats are a play on the movies he’s done, I really love those old Universal Pictures movies. I also did a Creature from the Black Lagoon piece. I’m not big on the gore in movies these days; I like the classic old stuff that’s more suspense than blood and guts.

These are iconic characters that everyone can recognise which was the aim; but I went a little off track, throwing a few curveballs in. And I tried to avoid clichés, even though they are famous people, I painted it in such a way that it becomes mine, I like the creepy vibe you can create from a painting.

How did you choose the backgrounds for each picture? For example, your Salvador Dali image?

Well he was crazy. So I wanted to show him going mad through the spiral background. It also draws the eye into his face where he has that wacky expression. I feel that the background is as important as the figure. It’s telling a story – Dali is descending into madness. The Bettie Page one, for example, has a leopard print background. She used to wear a lot of leopard print bikinis and negligée; that was easy. However, I try to keep the background simple so it doesn’t detract from the figure. I tend to pick similar colours so it all blends into one. The heavy black shadows draw your eye into the figure’s actual face.