MIRKA MORA: Prominent French-born Australian visual artist

Calla Lily ArtArleen Solomon Rotchin3 Comments

She has contributed significantly to the development of contemporary art in Australia.  Her mediums include painting, sculpture and mosaics.

Mirka Mora was born March, 1928 to a Lithuanian Jewish father, Leon Zelik and a Romanian Jewish mother, Celia ‘Suzanne’ Gelbein.  

She was arrested in 1942 during the Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv but her father managed to arrange for her release from the concentration camp before she and her mother were scheduled to be deported to Auschwitz.  The family evaded arrest and deportation from 1942-1945 by hiding in the forests of France.

Having survived the Holocaust, Mirka and her husband George Mora migrated to Australia in 1951 where George became an influential art dealer and founded one of the first commercial art galleries in Melbourne

Mirka is a noted colourist and symbolist.  Her paintings are bright and bold and for many years she conducted workshops in painting, sculpture and mosaics.

She draws heavily on a stable of recurring motifs-innocent, wide-eyed children, angels, dogs, cats, snakes and birds.

The Mora family owned and operated 3 of Melbourne’s most famous cafés.

The Mirka Café opened in December, 1954 and was the venue for the first major solo exhibition by Joy Hester.  It was followed by Café Balzac, the first restaurant in the city to get a 10 p.m. liquor license, and then by the Tolarno 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.’  Their three sons had a culturally privileged childhood as a result.

Now, the 88-year old artist has teamed up with Australia’s Gorman Fashion Label for a collaborative collection that encapsulates the brand’s familiar style and artist’s charming characters and critters. 

Lisa Gorman first laid eyes on Mirka’s paintings when she visited Tolarno, the Mora’s café and gallery, (now a hotel) many years ago when she moved to Melbourne. 

She loved the real nature elements.  

Gorman said, ‘the texture throughout the work, the oil on canvas, applies beautifully to textiles such as silk and linen in the collection. I was inspired not only by the paintings themselves, but the way the works can be treated on fabrics, such as repeating them to create yardage prints.’

From dresses to scarves and bags, almost everything wearable has been blessed by Mora’s designs.  

In 2002 Mora was made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Minister of Culture and Communication.

She is the mother of actor Tiriel Mora, film director Philippe Mora and art dealer William Mora.

She lives in a studio in Melbourne.