Mirka Mora

Mirka Mora

Mirka MoraMirka Madeline 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.

In a career spanning more than six decades, Mora's works included painting, ceramics and even doll-making.

Brave, funny, irreverent and talented, Mirka was an icon of our city and state

Mora and her husband Georges helped transform the city into the "creative and cosmopolitan city is today", Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

The Herald Sun Digital Edition: END OF A MELBOURNE ERA

MUCH-loved Melbourne artist Mirka Mora, who helped transform the city's cultural identity, has died at the age of 90.

'An artist and mentor who touched the lives of thousands, she has had an indelible effect on Australia's cultural life,' her son William said last night.

Ms Mora was born in France in 1928 and escaped being sent to Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation.

She married French resistance fighter Georges in 1947 and the couple came to Australia in 1951.

The family brought European-style dining to Melbourne in the 1950s, including Mirka Cafe on Exhibition St and Balzac in East Melbourne, which was the first restaurant in the city to have a 10pm liquor licence.

Ms Mora first trained in mime and drama under the legendary Marcel Marceau.

The Age Digital Edition: Artist who brightened our world

Mirka Mora added a touch of magic to Melbourne, writes Debbie Cuthbertson .

Mirka Mora, one of Melbourne's best-known and most-loved artists whose distinctive works have adorned the city like no other, has died at the age of 90.

Mirka, one of Melbourne's most famous bohemians, transformed the culture of her adopted home town after emigrating to Australia in the 1950s from war-torn France.

Mirka's son, William Mora, confirmed his mother's death last night.

'' It's with great sadness that the Mora family announces the passing of our matriarch, the magic Mirka Mora,'' he said.

'' An artist and mentor who touched the lives of thousands, she has had an indelible effect on Australia's cultural life. At 90, she fought Alzheimer's and age-related illness to the end. The joie de vivre she has shared with so many will continue in her immense legacy of art and her spirit of generosity.''

Mirka left her mark all over the city: on murals in restaurants and at Flinders Street Station; in a mosaic on St Kilda Pier; on a clothing collection worn by many a Melbourne woman; and even on the exterior of a tram in the 1980s.

She had a steady stream of visitors in recent days after her condition deteriorated, The Age understands.

Mirka is survived by family including her three sons - filmmaker and artist Philippe, art dealer William, and Tiriel, an actor

- as well as grandchildren.

Mirka Madeleine Mora was born in Paris on March 18, 1928, to a Lithuanian father, Leon Zelik, and a Romanian mother, Celia Gelbein. Her rich and long life was extraordinary in many ways, not least because it was a wonder she survived her teens in Nazi-occupied France.

She and her mother were arrested in the Velodrome d'Hiver (or Vel d'Hiv ) round-up of 1942, the largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust, and taken by train to a concentration camp in Pithviers.

Through the ingenuity of her parents, the kindness of strangers and sheer luck, the pair were released from the concentration camp just before they were to be transferred to Auschwitz.

After returning to Paris, Mirka met and married Georges Mora, a French resistance fighter . They wed in 1947 and emigrated to Australia with their infant son, Philippe, in 1951. The couple became pioneers of what have since become some of the city's biggest drawcards; cafes, late-night bars and contemporary art.

'She has contributed to Melbourne's transformation from quiet, provincial town to sophisticated, multicultural city,' a biography of Mirka on son William's website says. Mirka and Georges' moved to the top of town: 9 Collins Street, where the Sofitel now stands.

The studio and apartment's previous tenants included painters Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.

'' It had a great history, so all the people of Melbourne knew the place,' Mirka told Good Weekend in 2011.

'I remember we had so many parties ... and every time when the music started, a brick would come through the window as there was a very old lady who didn't like us.'

Mirka's first encounter with Melbourne came at the age of 16 via Henri Murger's 1850s book Scenes de la Vie de Boheme. It was the one volume on her father's bookshelf that he instructed her not to read.

'In the book, the hero was a photographer who kept going to Melbourne to make some money and then returned to France to help his friends - poets, musicians and painters,'' Mirka said.

'I remembered the story in Melbourne and talked my husband into coming ... [He] wanted to go to Casablanca, which he knew well, but I remembered the forbidden book with Melbourne in it.

'' It attracted me enormously. The people seemed to be naive, pure, innocent.'

While it was the city's bohemian reputation that drew her here, its reality scandalised the then 21-yearold .

'I was shocked. I was just a young bride and they already had open marriages. We were invited to a big party and I was a bit bored at that party so I looked under the table to see what was going on and there was a lot of hanky-panky .'

Soon enough, though, she scandalised them right back.

'One night, Mirka decided to have some fun by cutting tiny holes in her dress, so that her nipples protruded, just to see the reaction of the restaurant clientele,' Gabriella Coslovich wrote in The Age in 2007.

In the early 1950s the couple's Mirka Cafe in Exhibition Street became a hub for the hottest creatives, many of whom went on to be luminaries of Australian art. It hosted the likes of John and Sunday Reed, Fred Williams, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd.

Among their coterie was the painter Charles Blackman, who died on August 20, also aged 90. He worked at the cafe, and had his first exhibition there (as did Hester).

The Moras opened East Melbourne restaurant Balzac in 1956. In 1960 it became the first establishment in the city with a 10pm liquor licence. They moved to St Kilda in the late 1960s, buying Tolarno Hotel in Fitzroy Street. They ran a restaurant downstairs, while the hotel became their residence, and for many years housed Mirka's art studio.

While there, they opened Tolarno Gallery, one of Melbourne's first commercial art galleries, a harbinger of a city now teeming with them. More than 50 years on, and now in Exhibition Street, it continues to champion cutting-edge art.

Throughout Mirka's life, art was a constant. She went to theatre school in France, training with mime artist Marcel Marceau (who fought in the Resistance with Georges). Her sensuous, cherubic figures - described by one 1960s art critic as 'medieval imps' - are instantly recognisable.

She had more than 35 solo exhibitions throughout her career, including a retrospective at Heide Museum of Art in 1999-2000 , celebrating 50 years of her work.

Heide will mark her 90th year with Mirka Mora: Pas de Deux - Drawings and Dolls, opening in October. Its curators have written a book, Mirka and Georges, to coincide with the exhibition.

Mirka was made Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2002. Her works are held by dozens of Australian galleries, and in private collections throughout Australia and overseas.

She wrote several books, including 2000's My Life - Wicked But Virtuous. In recent years she become a favourite on ABC TV's Agony Aunts, sharing her philosophies on life, love and family, often with a cheeky giggle.

She and Georges separated in 1970, after affairs on both sides, and later divorced but remained in love. He died in 1992. '' The affair with Georges never ended and lasted 51 years,'' she wrote in her book.

She mused about death in a 1990 Age interview while describing her sense of humour.

'It is gruesome,' she said. 'I think everything is funny. It's so funny that we have to die. It's cruel, but it's terribly funny. You have all these dreams and you've got to leave everything.'

But not even death would curtail her art, she tipped. 'In my grave I'll take some brushes and some paint. You never know!'

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