ZEST FOR LIFE

Mirka Mora’s new show at Heide sparkles with the joy of a life well lived. She and talk art, friends, food and in­spi­ra­tion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - PROFILE -

se­nior, and the cou­ple moved to Mel­bourne in 1951. Mirka set up a stu­dio at 9 Collins Street (for­merly used by Arthur Stree­ton, Tom Roberts and Fred­er­ick McCub­bin, and since knocked down) and opened a cafe in Ex­hi­bi­tion Street.

There, and later at their restaurants, the Balzac and To­larno, the cou­ple hosted artists, the bo­hemian set and cos­mopoli­tan Mel­bur­ni­ans.

The Mo­ras be­friended John and Sun­day Reed, and the cir­cle of writ­ers, artists and in­tel­lec­tu­als they cul­ti­vated at their home at Heide. It was a se­duc­tive and slightly dan­ger­ous place, Mirka says, al­though the Mo­ras ar­rived on the scene in the years af­ter Sun­day’s re­la­tion­ship with Sid­ney Nolan. Later, the two fam­i­lies had neigh­bour­ing week­enders at Aspendale in Mel­bourne’s south­east.

Me­ta­mor­phis

“The rea­son my hus­band and I be­came so friendly with the Reeds is that when you went to the li­brary, they had the same books that we had in Paris,” Mora says. “Sartre, Si­mone de Beau­voir, all these people were there, in their book­shelves, and that made us very close straight away.”

The Heide ex­hi­bi­tion this month fol­lows a ret­ro­spec­tive of Mora’s work there in 1999. The new show is a collection of per­sonal works, called From the Home of Mirka Mora. It in­cludes one of her ear­li­est pic­tures — of a church and land­scape, painted dur­ing her hon­ey­moon at Tal­loires in 1947 — and her lat­est, painted this year. Mora’s soft-sculp­ture dolls, ceram­ics and works on paper fill out the pic­ture of the artist who has found an out­let in so many forms. (Her out­put also in­cludes mu­rals, stage de­signs and a lively mem­oir, Wicked But Vir­tu­ous.)

A morn­ing with Mirka is like vis­it­ing, when they were still alive, Martin Sharp or Mar­garet Ol­ley at their homes in Syd­ney. Ol­ley’s “hat fac­tory” stu­dio was a mael­strom of paint­ings, cat­a­logues, bits and pieces of sculp­ture, flow­ers dry­ing in vases and over­flow­ing ash­trays. In a project of arche­o­log­i­cal pro­por­tions, the stu­dio has been re-cre­ated at the Tweed Re­gional Gallery in north­ern NSW.

Art and life are in­sep­a­ra­ble in such places, a re­minder to any who may dab­ble that art is a vo­ca­tion, not a 9-5 job. Al­though she has lived at the Richmond apart­ment only since 2000, when she moved from her house at St Kilda, Mora’s place is sim­i­larly chaotic, a hoarder’s par­adise, but where seem­ingly ev­ery scrap, trin­ket, per­am­bu­la­tor and re­frig­er­a­tor em­anates a per­sonal his­tory. I’m sit­ting on the chair where Mar­cel Marceau once sat.

Af­ter cof­fee, she leads me to an­other cor­ner where, squeezed be­tween her canopied brass bed and the bal­cony, are two can­vases she has been work­ing on. The larger one shows a kind of en­chanted gar­den, with winged cupids, hu­man fig­ures and a happy ser­pent. The smaller pic­ture has a woman hold­ing a bird that could be a duck.

Mora says she de­tests re­li­gion, but the viewer may re­gard her pic­tures as icons of a kind. “The bird is sup­posed to be a pe­nis, did you know that?” she says. There’s logic to this: the only time she saw her fa­ther naked, she thought his pe­nis looked like a duck’s neck.

Paint­ing is a daily oc­cu­pa­tion for Mora, who be­lieves in keep­ing her artis­tic self in a state of fit­ness or readi­ness, like an ath­lete. She has no say in the ar­rival of ideas or their form. Where does her in­spi­ra­tion come from?

“That’s what I ask my­self ev­ery day,” she says. “I have to steal it be­cause if I de­cide to do some­thing, that’s not art. It has to dis­cover me. It’s mys­te­ri­ous, but that’s how it works.”

Mirka Mora in her stu­dio in Richmond, Mel­bourne, left; her work (1970), be­low

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