Mirka Mora

On the 28 August Melbourne and Australia at large lost one of our great citizens and an extraordinary artist- Mirka Mora (1928- 2018). Here is Mirka as she appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1954.

The week before another great Australian artist Charles Blackman died. What many of you would not know is that in 1953 Blackman held his first exhibition in the living room of the home of Mirka Mora and her husband Georges. Therefore it is appropriate to show you Girl Dreaming by Blackman because this is what Mirka did- she dreamed and turned her dreams into reality.
(Credit: Art Gallery of New South Wales)

Mirka Madeleine Mora(18 March 1928 – 27 August 2018) was a French-born Australian visual artist and cultural figure who contributed significantly to the development of contemporary art in Australia. Mirka herself used a great variety of media- drawing, painting, sculpture, murals, embroidery. Here is her Bird with Brood a charcoal on paper work done in 1960.

(Credit: Business Insider)

Mirka was born Mirka Zelik in Paris, to a Lithuanian Jewish father, Leon Zelik, and a Romanian Jewish mother, Celia 'Suzanne' Gelbein. Mirka was arrested in 1942 during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup (Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv). Her father, Leon, managed to arrange for her release from the concentration camp at Pithiviers (Loiret) before Mora and her mother, Celia, were scheduled to be deported to Auschwitz. The family evaded arrest and deportation from 1942 to 1945 by hiding in the forests of France. After the war, Mora met a wartime resistance fighter Georges Mora in Paris at the age of 17. They married in 1947. (Wikipedia)

Mirka and Georges migrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1951. Occupying studios in the Grosvenor Chambers in the 'Paris End' of Collins Street they became key figures on the Melbourne cultural scene. Georges became an influential art dealer, and in 1967 he founded one of the first commercial art galleries in Melbourne, the Tolarno Galleries. (Wikipedia) This is one of her works from this time. A pastel titled Face in Mist (1967)


The Mora family also owned and operated three of Melbourne's most famous cafés. The Mirka Café was opened by Jean Sablon in December 1954 at 183 Exhibition Street and was the venue for the first major solo exhibition by Joy Hester. Joy Hesteer was one of the Angry Penguins we looked at some time back.

Other cafes followed: the Café Balzac at 62 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne and then the Tolarno in Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, which opened in 1966. You can see Mirka's murals on the walls.
(Credit: Broadsheet)

A close up from one of these works.

All three cafes were focal points for Melbourne's bohemian subculture. As Mora's son Philippe recalls, my parents literally fed artists at our home and in our restaurants.
Mirka recalled: the Mirka Cafe got too big, because too many people came and couldn't get in. And so we opened the Balzac Restaurant and the Balzac Restaurant was really the toast of Melbourne. It was a beautiful restaurant. But it was my husband's work of art and I only came in the restaurant to help when my husband went overseas. My husband always tried to find a big house so I could have a big studio. So one day my husband came and said, "I have bought a hotel." I did get a big studio for one week, then I had to give it to my husband for his gallery. (Laughs) And then I went on the first floor, where I had the bridal room, which was a beautiful studio. (Wikipedia) This is one of her embroideries.
(Credit: The Conversation) And this work hangs in Manning Clark House.
(Credit: Art Almanac)

Mirka Mora worked in a great range of media. Many of her works are in the permanent collection of the Heide Museum of Modern Art. This is In the Garden created in 1996.

The National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria hold many of her works. The Medieval Gathering is in the National Gallery, Victoria.
(Credit: Visual Arts)

Mora's works are available to view in public places. There is an external mural in Acland Street, St Kilda, a mosaic seat on the St Kilda foreshore and she used mixed media for the mural which is displayed at Flinders Street Station, Melbourne as displayed below.
(Credit: MAP)

Mirka even painted one of our beloved trams in about 1980!
(Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive, State Library of Victoria)

Mirka Mora participated with Bruce Petty, Reg Mombassa, Ginger Riley and others in the production of the Federation Tapestry Suite in Melbourne Museum coordinated by artist Murray Walker and executed by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop to mark the Australian Centenary of Federation in 2001. In the sixth panel, Mora portrays Aboriginal leader Charles Perkins conversing with three white Australians. Sadly I couldn't find an image of her panel.

Other major commissions that no longer survive include sets, costumes and masks for the ballet, Ivan the Terrible (1964), and the operas Medea and Bacchae (1979-1980), and 85 1.5m puppets for the opera Bennelong. (Wikipedia)

Mirka was a noted colourist and symbolist, her paintings are often bright and bold, constantly reinventing a repertoire of recurring motifs—innocent, wide-eyed children, angels, dogs, cats, snakes and birds, and hybrids of animals and humans. (Wikipedia) Here is a page from Mirka's sketchbook (1983) exemplifying the symbols she used.
(Credit: ABC)

Mirka also loved making dolls.
(Credit: The Conversation)

This one - a double sided figure- was created in 1977.

Mirka Mora had more than 35 solo exhibitions throughout her career. An important retrospective Mirka Mora: where angels fear to tread: 50 years of art 1948-1998 was held at Heide Museum of Art 1999-2000 to celebrate 50 years of her work. Mirka Mora: Charcoals 1958-1965 featured in the Melbourne Art Fair 2018, from August 1–5, just prior to her death. (Wikipedia)

In 2003 Mirka was awarded the Officier des Arts et des Lettres one of France’s highest honours. The wonderful exuberance she had is shown in this photo with Marcel Marceau who presented the award.
(Credit: Shaney Balcombe/AAP)

Vale Mirka. Your contribution to making Melbourne one of the great art cities of the world will never be forgotten. Mirka and Charles Blackman have a lot of talking to catch up on over a cup of coffee. Charles worked at a time in the restaurant owned and run by Georges and Mirka so no doubt Blackman will have to do the washing up!

We will farewell this remarkable woman and artist with one of her Angel paintings.

(Credit: Herald Sun)

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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