Mirka Mora in 1961
Photographer J. Brian McArdle
Mirka Madeleine Zelik
18 March 1928
|Died||27 August 2018 (aged 90)|
|Known for||Painting, Sculpture, Mosaics|
|Awards||Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres|
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. Her media included drawing, painting, sculpture and mosaic.
Mirka Mora was born in Paris, to a Lithuanian Jewish father, Leon Zelik, and a Romanian Jewish mother, Celia 'Suzanne' Gelbein. She 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. In an interview in 2004, Mora said:
I really wanted to make love to him, because I was very humiliated that he didn't because I was 17, and he said, "I know that you are not happy but we have to wait till we get married."
"Ah! Married?" So I agreed to get married to lose my virginity. That's true.
Migration to Australia
Having survived the Holocaust, Mora and her husband migrated to Australia in 1951 and settled in Melbourne, occupying studios in the Grosvenor Chambers in the 'Paris End' of Collins Street, and quickly 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.
The Mora family also owned and operated three significant Melbourne 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. It was followed by the Café Balzac at 62 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne and then by the Tolarno in Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, which opened in 1966. All three 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". In a 2004 interview Mora stated:
Actually, 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.
The Mora family's social circle included many progressive Australian artists and writers: Ian Sime, Charles Blackman and Barbara Blackman, Fred Williams, John Perceval, Albert Tucker, Barrett Reid, Laurence Hope, Arthur Boyd and Joy Hester. The Mora family were especially close friends with renowned art patrons John and Sunday Reed, and spent many weekends at their famous home and artists' colony "Heide" (now the Heide Museum of Modern Art) in the Melbourne suburb of Bulleen, and at the Reeds' beach house next door to the Moras' own in Aspendale.
Mora had three children, actor Tiriel Mora, film director Philippe Mora and art dealer William Mora. They had what Philippe describes as "a culturally privileged childhood". After extramarital relationships on both sides, Mora eventually separated from her husband Georges.
Art: style and reception
After coming to Australia in 1951, three years later Mora had become well known in art circles in Melbourne and, with patron friends John and Sunday Reed, was operative in reviving the Contemporary Art Society there. Mirka and Georges Mora, through the Contemporary Art Society and with Italian Gino Nibbi (1896-1969) who showed Tucker and Nolan at his Galleria di Quattro Venti in Rome, made strenuous efforts to have Australia accepted for the first time into the Venice Biennale, urging the inclusion of contemporary art to promote its alignment with Modernist practice of Australian immigrant artists from Europe and their influence on a reinvigoration of the country's art.
Though they secured an exhibition, it was not a success, as the conservative Commonwealth Arts Advisory Board maintained control over the entries, sending outdated examples of the Heidelberg School and a few Arthur Boyd landscapes. The episode exacerbated the split between the traditionalist and modernist groups and was not until 1978 that Australia was finally represented at Venice under the auspices of the Australian Arts Council.
Mora innovatively used a wide range of media and large numbers of her works are in the permanent collection of the Heide Museum of Modern Art, in the National Gallery of Australia in the National Gallery of Victoria. They are also available to view in public places; in an external mural in Acland Street, St Kilda, a mosaic seat on the St Kilda foreshore, and as a mixed-media mural prominently displayed at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. The latter is nine metres long and about four meters high in three different techniques in the same artwork: painting in the upper register, mosaic in the middle, larger one, and painted low relief at the pavement level. Completed in 1986, in 1998, Mirka restored the eroded lower part of the mural. Mora also 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. Other major commissions include a painted Melbourne tram (1978), 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.
The artist 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.
Perceptions of Mora's work have evolved against the background of the Australian art scene and its changing levels of sophistication. Donald Brook, in reviewing the 1964 Paintings by the Aleph Group describes Mora's work as one of only two that were 'distinctively Jewish'. Robin Wallace-Crabbe in his 1968 Canberra Times critique 'Giving away high-mindedness' of Mora's show at the Australian Sculpture Gallery, Narrabundah, hints that though 'delightful' her work is naïve, "like a mixture of May Gibbs' 'Snugglepot and Cuddlepie' and the prevailing Melbourne style in the early fifties", while later, in 1981, Sonja Kaleski is more favourably analytical in her review 'Vibrant, Volatile Artist', in The Canberra Times;
"[Mora's] own artistic style has had little to do with contemporary art movements, but has grown out of a need to explore her own life through the medium of fantastic imagery. She became widely known to the public after her exhibition of dolls in 1971 at Realities Gallery, Melbourne, and the dolls have been a major means of expression for her since that time. But these dolls are more than just a means of artistic expression—they are her friends and mentors and she can hardly bear to sell them."
Mora's works and commentary on them have appeared in Australian Drawings by Elwyn Lynn, New painting, 1952-62 by John Reed, The Vital Decade by co-authors Geoffrey Dutton and Max Harris, and the Encyclopedia of Australian Art by Alan McCulloch.
When Mora showed with Jean Dubuffet and Francois Mezzapelle in In Pursuit of Fantasy opening 18 October 1997 at George Gallery 129 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, Melbourne, the French language Le Courrier Australien reported that the vernissage was attended by 800 people, and described her work;
[For] Mirka Mora, already well known widely in Australia the themes of the relations between humans and the duality between animality and humanity seem to be her constant preoccupations. Paintings of great sensitivity where humour, too, is often present, undoubtedly reflecting the exceptional personality of this great artist Mirka Mora. Numerous paintings from 1957 to 1992 and notably Little Lovers (1970), are emblematic representations of the animal fusion of lovers that is also found in Love Quarrel (1991)
Heidi curator Kendrah Morgan in a 2011 education kit lists Mora's wide range of influences;
"from the theatrical traditions of the Surrealists and the Comédies Italiennes, to the work of the European modernist masters, classical mythology, fairy tales, child and outsider art, and the toys and dolls of her Russian folkloric heritage."
For many years Mora conducted workshops in painting, soft sculpture and mosaics, where countless Australians learned from her unique approach to teaching art. She travelled also to France, the USA and Japan to present her workshops.
Later life and death
Mora lived and worked in a number of studios in Melbourne, including Rankins Lane. Mora appeared as an interviewee on the ABC's conversational television programs Agony Aunts and The Agony of Life in 2012 and 2013. In 2016 Mora, for a long time a contributor of design to the fashion industry, collaborated with Australian fashion company Gorman to launch a 23 piece collection based on four artworks. Her murals survive on the walls of the Tolarno restaurant and gallery she previously owned in St. Kilda. In 2016, an East Melbourne bar-owner uncovered a lost mural on the wall of his establishment, previously the Café Balzac.
In 2002 Mora was made an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture and Communication. Mirka Lane in St Kilda, off Barkly Street near the intersections of Grey and Inkerman Streets was named after the artist.
Mora had more than 35 solo exhibitions throughout her career, most in five galleries; the Contemporary Art Society, Heidi Museum of Modern Art, Douglas Galleries, Tolarno Galleries, and Watters Gallery. 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 2–5 August, just prior to her death.
Other exhibitions include:
- Mirka Mora paintings 1966–2012, 1–5 August 2012, Melbourne Art Fair, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne
- Mirka Goes West, July 2009, Short St Gallery 7 Short Street, Chinatown, Broome WA.
- Women at Watters, (group show) 22 February 1995 – 11 March 1995, Watters Gallery, East Sydney, NSW
- Mirka Mora, 1990, Arthouse, Launceston, Tasmania, An exhibition of 42 oil paintings, drawings and embroideries.
- Exhibition of painted fabrics and dolls, 29 August – 12 September 1979, at the David Jones Art Gallery , 6th floor, Elizabeth Street, Sydney.
- Annual Special Christmas Exhibition (group show), December 1986, Solander Gallery, 36 Grey Street, Deakin, ACT.
- Embroideries of Mirka Mora, 1978, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, VIC
- Drawing exhibition (group show with John Perceval, Noel Counihan, Arthur Boyd), 24 February – 23 March 1977, Realities Gallery, Toorak, Melbourne, Vic.
- Project 20: Fabric Art, September 1977 - 9 October 1977, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW
- Mirka Mora, Erotic Drawings and Figures 2–18 May 1974, Realities Gallery, Melbourne, Vic
- Mirka Mora: Paintings: 'The Finding of Erichthonius' June 1968 - 22 June 1968, Watters Gallery, Sydney, NSW
- Drawings by Mirka Mora. November 1968, Australian Sculpture Gallery, 1 Finniss Crescent, Narrabundah, NSW.
- Paintings by the Aleph Group (group show by Australian Jewish artists), 4–11 October 1964, Studio Nundah, Canberra.
- Foyer exhibition with Charles Blackman and Arthur Boyd, 26 March 1954 at the opening of "The Bachelor", Arrow Theatre
- Contemporary Art Society exhibition, opened 6 April 1954. Tye's Gallery. This was the first CAS exhibition since 1947 (the revival due to efforts by the Moras and Reeds) and Mirka Mora's first Australian show 
- Harding, Lesley; Morgan, Kendrah, (author.) (2018), Mirka & Georges : A Culinary Affair, Miegunyah Press, ISBN 978-0-522-87220-0
- Mora, Mirka; Carter, Earl (2003), Love and clutter, Viking, ISBN 978-0-670-04064-3
- Mora, Mirka (2000), Wicked but virtuous : my life, Penguin, ISBN 978-0-670-88039-3
- Mora, Mirka; Delany, Max; White, Murray (Murray F.); Museum of Modern Art at Heide (1999), Mirka Mora : where angels fear to tread : 50 years of art 1948 - 1998, Museum of Modern Art at Heide, ISBN 978-0-947104-53-5
- Zavod, Christine; Mora, Mirka, (1996), From angels with love, Lothian, ISBN 978-0-85091-793-2
- Mora, Mirka (1987), Mirka Mora : works 1957-1987, William Mora Galleries
- Beier, Ulli; Cox, Paul, 1940-2016 (1980), Mirka, Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-333-29932-6
- Mora, Mirka; Cantrill, Corinne,; Cantrill, Arthur, (1970), Mirka's colouring book number one (First ed.), Courtin/Fevola Publishing
Motion pictures and audio
- Mirka Mora at the Australian National Film and Sound Archive
- Jager, Claire; Lewis, John; Australian Film Commission; Omar Kayham Films (1996), The good looker
- Prod Co: Prahran College of Advanced Education; Cox, Paul, 1941- (Director); Prahran College of Advanced Education (1977), Mirka, Prahran College of Advanced Education [production company]
- Mora, Mirka; Palmer, Sheridan. (Interviewer) (2012), Mirka Mora interviewed by Sheridan Palmer in the Australian art from 1950 to the present oral history projectMora, Mirka; Blackman, Barbara, 1928- (Interviewer) (1984), Mirka Mora interviewed by Barbara Blackman, 1984
- Mora, Mirka; De Berg, Hazel, 1913-1984. (Interviewer) (1965), Mirka Mora interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection
- Prod. Co: Kestrel Film Productions 1986 (Writer/Director: David Greig) "The Australian Alps: Mirka's Palace of Dreams" http://collections.acmi.net.au/objects/35514
- National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
- National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
- Ballarat Fine Art Gallery
- Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
- Ararat Regional Gallery
- Myer Collection
- Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, Melbourne
- National Australia Bank, Melbourne
- Council for Adult Education, Melbourne
- Federation Tapestry, Melbourne Museum
- St Kilda Pier Entrance Pavilion
- National Theatre Trust, Sydney
- Cosmos Bookshop, Melbourne
- Flinders Street Station, Melbourne
- Adelaide Festival Centre
- Perth Festival
- Ayr Community Library, Queensland
- Burdekin Library and Theatre, Sydney
- Tolarno Restaurant, Melbourne
- Numerous private collections in Australia and overseas
- Madeleine 'Mirka' Zelik Article
- Langsam, D., 1999, Mirka Mora - Still a naughty girl
- Negus, George (15 July 2004). "Mirka Mora". GNT Profiles. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
- Mora, Mirka (2002). Wicked but Virtuous: My Life. Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140294835.
- "Woman's Page 1 Carols... by Candlelight". The Argus (Melbourne). Victoria, Australia. 9 December 1954. p. 12 – via National Library of Australia.
- Davison, G. (2001). The European City in Australia. Journal of Urban History, 27(6), 779-793.
- Janine Burke (2004). The heart garden: Sunday Reed and Heide. Knopf. see Pages 321, 348, 435.
- Perkin, Corrie (9 December 2007), "Bohemia by the sea [The beach houses of Georges and Mirka Mora and Sunday and John Reed in Aspendale, Melbourne, were a magnet for Australia's most famous artists]", Weekend Australian Magazine (8-9 Dec 2007): 46–49, ISSN 1038-8761
- Sarah Scott (2003) Imaging a nation: Australia's representation at the Venice biennale, 1958, Journal of Australian Studies, 27:79, 51-63, DOI: 10.1080/14443050309387887
- "People, Parties..." The Age (30867). Victoria, Australia. 6 April 1954. p. 7 – via National Library of Australia.
- "'The essential woman'". The Argus (Melbourne). Victoria, Australia. 6 April 1954. p. 8. Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "LEISURE THE ARTS Exhibition of Melbourne drawings". The Canberra Times. 43, (12, 152). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 8 November 1968. p. 13. Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- 138 Mirka Mora works in the National Gallery of Australia
- Mirka Mora works in the National Gallery of Victoria
- Victorian Heritage Database Report: Mirka Mora Mural
- Sabine Cotte (2012) Conservation collaboration with Mirka Mora for three treatments of her public artworks, AICCM Bulletin, 33:1, 80-89, DOI: 10.1179/bac.2012.33.1.010
- Marinelli, M., & Ricatti, F. (2013). 'Emotional geographies of the uncanny: Reinterpreting italian transnational spaces'. In Cultural Studies Review, 19(2), 5-18.
- Irving, Pamela; Boyd, Arthur, 1920-1999; Mora, Mirka, 1928-2018; Perceval, John, 1923-2000 (1989), The angel imagery of Arthur Boyd, John Perceval and Mirka Mora
- "Artists with an irrelevant tag". The Canberra Times. 39, (10, 968). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 5 October 1964. p. 2 – via National Library of Australia.
- "ART Giving away high-mindedness". The Canberra Times. 43, (12, 157). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 14 November 1968. p. 33. Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "VIBRANT, VOLATILE ARTIST". The Canberra Times. 55, (16, 598). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 7 March 1981. p. 17. Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- Lynn, Elwyn (1963), Contemporary drawing, Longmans
- Reed, John; Reed, John, 1901-1981 (1963), New painting, 1952-62, Longmans
- Dutton, Geoffrey; Dutton, Geoffrey, 1922-1998; Harris, Max, 1921-1995 (1968), The vital decade : ten year of Australian art and letters, Sun Books in association with Australian Letters
- McCulloch, Alan; Nodrum, Charles (1984), Encyclopedia of Australian art (Updated and corr ed.), Hutchinson of Australia, ISBN 978-0-09-148250-3
- 'Dubuffet, Mezzapelle and Mora:in pursuit of fantasy'. In Le Courrier Australien, Monday 10 November 1997, page 21
- Kendrah Morgan (2011)'Mirka' Exhibition Education Resource Kit
- "Much more than an artistic catalyst". The Canberra Times. 58, (17, 605). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 11 December 1983. p. 3 (SUNDAY EDITION). Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "MELBOURNE". Le Courrier Australien. , (12). New South Wales, Australia. 1 December 1976. p. 9. Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Art workshop". The Canberra Times. 57, (17, 206). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 6 November 1982. p. 3. Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "The Aunts Mirka Mora". ABC1. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
- "Lights, camera, confession". ABC. 7 March 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
- Juliette Peers (2009) ‘London, Paris, New York, and Collingwood’: Reconsidering Pre-1945 Australian Fashion, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 10:1, 119,n28, DOI: 10.1080/14434318.2009.11432604
- Rychter, Tacey (12 July 2016). "Gorman's New Collaboration with Mirka Mora". Broadsheet. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
- Coslovich, Gabriella (6 March 2007). "St Kilda restaurant row takes a priceless turn". The Age. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
- "Lost Mirka Mora mural uncovered at Melbourne bar, preserved under plaster". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. 17 August 2016. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
- Cuthbertson, Debbie (27 August 2018). "Much-loved Melbourne artist Mirka Mora dies aged 90". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- https://goo.gl/maps/f7tLp1oZmoH2 Map location, Mirka Lane, St Kilda
- "Mirka Mora". Heide Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- McPhee, John. "The Story of Watters". Watters Gallery. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- Mora, Mirka, 1928-; Delany, Max; White, Murray (Murray F.); Museum of Modern Art at Heide (1999), Where angels fear to tread : 50 years of art 1948 - 1998 / Mirka Mora ; [editors] Max Delany, Murray White, Museum of Modern Art at Heide
- "Mirka Mora - Charcoals 1958-1965". William Mora Galleries. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- Mora, Mirka; William Mora Galleries (2012), Mirka Mora paintings1966-2012 : Melbourne Art Fair 1-5 August 2012 Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne Australia, Richmond, Victoria William Mora Galleries, retrieved 30 August 2018
- "Mirka Goes West". Short St. Gallery. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- "Mirka Madeleine Mora". Design and Art of Australia. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- "the goods times Spare times". The Canberra Times. 61, (18, 690). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 4 December 1986. p. 14 (the good times). Retrieved 29 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- Realities (Art gallery), [Realities (Art gallery) : Australian Gallery File], retrieved 30 August 2018
- "Mirka Madeleine Mora". Arcadja. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- "Corrigan Collection Solo Exhibition Catalogues" (PDF). State Library of New South Wales. p. 14. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
- "Current events". The Argus (Melbourne). Victoria, Australia. 26 March 1954. p. 10 – via National Library of Australia.
- "20 women in contemporary art exhibition". The Argus (Melbourne). Victoria, Australia. 6 April 1954. p. 8. Retrieved 29 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "MIRKA MORA". Le Courrier Australien. New South Wales, Australia. 1 October 2003. p. 36. Retrieved 28 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- Heathcote, C. (2000). Bibliofile: Mirka Mora, Wicked but Virtuous: My Life. Art Monthly Australia, 136, 32.
- "MELBOURNE". Le Courrier Australien. , (12). New South Wales, Australia. 1 December 1980. p. 9. Retrieved 29 August 2018 – via National Library of Australia.