The much-loved Melbourne artist Mirka Mora dies at the age of 90

Mirka left her mark throughout the city: on murals in restaurants and on Flinders Street Station; in a mosaic on St Kilda Pier; on a clothing collection worn by many Melbourne women; and even on the outside of a tram in the eighties.

Her health had failed recently and she had a steady flow of visitors this week after her condition worsened, 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 miracle that she survived her teenage years in France occupied by the Nazi.

She and her mother were arrested in the Velodrome d & # 39; Hiver (or Vel d & # 39; Hiv) round 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 both her parents, the friendliness of strangers and pure happiness, the couple was 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 married in 1947 and emigrated to Australia with their son Philippe in 1951.

The couple became pioneers of what has since become some of the city's biggest attractions; cafes, bars and contemporary art.

"She has contributed to the transformation of Melbourne from a quiet, provincial city to a sophisticated, multicultural city," says a biography of Mirka on the website of her son William.

Mirka and Georges & # 39; moved to the top of the city: 9 Collins Street, where the Sofitel now stands. The previous tenants of the studio and the apartment included the painters Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.

"It had a great history, so all Melbourne residents knew the place," Mirka said Good weekend in 2011.

"I remember that we had so many parties … and every time the music started, a brick came through the window because there was a very old lady who did not like us."

Mirka's first encounter with Melbourne came at the age of 16 through the book by Henri Murger from 1850 Scenes de la Vie de Boheme. It was the only part on her father's bookshelf that he told her not to read.

"In the book, the hero was a photographer who stayed to Melbourne to earn some money and then returned to France to help his friends – poets, musicians and painters," said Mora.

"I remembered the story in Melbourne and spoke to my husband until … [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 naïve, pure, innocent. "

While it was the bohemian reputation of the city that drew her here, reality made the then 21-year-old scandalous.

"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 little bored at that party, so I looked under the table to see what was going on. and there was a lot of handkerchief. "

But soon enough, she immediately scandalized them. "One night, Mirka decided to have some fun by cutting small holes in her dress so her nipples stuck out, just to see the reaction of the restaurant's customers," wrote Gabriella Coslovich The age in 2007.

At the beginning of the 1950s, the couple's Mirka Café in Exhibition Street became a center for the city's most popular creatives, many of whom later became the luminous artists of Australian art. It organized, among others, John and Sunday Reed, Fred Williams, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd.

Under their coterie was the painter Charles Blackman, who died on August 20, also at the age of 90 years. He worked in the café and had his first exhibition there (just like Hester).

Mirka Mora in 1954.

Mirka Mora in 1954.

The Moras opened Balzac, East Melbourne's restaurant, in 1956. In 1960 it became the first establishment in the city with a liquor license for ten hours.

They moved to St Kilda in the late 1960s, buying Tolarno Hotel in Fitzroy Street. They walked a restaurant downstairs, while the hotel became their residence and for many years housed Mirka's art studio.

While they were there, they opened the Tolarno Gallery, one of the first commercial art galleries in Melbourne, a harbinger of a city that is now full of it. More than 50 years later, and now based in Exhibition Street, it continues to defend the most progressive contemporary art.

During Mirka's life, art was a constant. She went to the theater academy in France and followed a training with mime artist Marcel Marceau (who fought in the resistance against Georges). Her sensual, cherubic figures – described by an art critic from the sixties as' medieval imps & # 39; – are immediately recognizable.

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

Heide will mark its 90th year Mirka Mora: Pas de Deux – Drawings and dolls, opening in October. The curators have written a book, Mirka and Georges, to coincide with the exhibition.

Mirka was appointed by the French government in 2002 as the Office of Arts and Literature. Her works are managed by dozens of Australian galleries and in private collections throughout Australia and abroad.

The Mural of Mirka Mora at the Tolarno Hotel in St Kilda.

The Mural of Mirka Mora at the Tolarno Hotel in St Kilda.

Photo: Delivered

She has written several books, including 2000 & # 39; s My Life – Wicked But Virtuous. In recent years she has become a favorite on ABC TV & # 39; s Stupid aunts, sharing her philosophies about life, love and family, often with a cheeky smile.

She and Georges divorced in 1970, after affair 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 pondered about death in 1990 Age interview while she describes her sense of humor.

"It is horrifying," 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 have to leave everything behind. & # 39;

But even death would not limit her art, she gave a tip.

& # 39; In my grave I take some brushes and some paint. You never know!"

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