Mirka Mora’s legacy on Melbourne is so far-reaching, you can’t quite grab the edges of it.
Do you begin with her contribution to Melbourne’s early cafe culture, starting with Mirka Café in Exhibition Street, which she owned with her husband Georges and had one of Melbourne’s first espresso machines? Or Balzac in East Melbourne, the first restaurant in the city to get a 10pm liquor license?
Or how about her 35-plus solo exhibitions since 1956? Or her friendship with John and Sunday Reed, the founders of Heide Museum of Modern Art, and with the associated artists of the era, including Arthur Boyd, Sydney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Charles Blackman?
With an artistic career spanning more than 60 years and various media (including paintings, tapestries and soft dolls), Mora’s recurring motifs of children, animals, angels and devils continue to inspire.
Now designer Lisa Gorman pays tribute to Mora in a 23-piece Gorman collection, which features prints from four of Mora’s original artworks. The range includes totes, zip purses and earrings, as well as hand-embroidered dresses inlaid with small round mirrors.
To celebrate the collaboration, we get out of the way and let the two Melburnians interview each other.
Mirka Mora: Why did you want to collaborate with me?
Lisa Gorman: I first laid eyes on your paintings when visiting Tolarno [the Moras’ cafe and gallery, now a hotel] in St Kilda many years ago when I first moved to Melbourne. I'm fascinated by your use of different mediums, particularly your dolls, and your other-worldliness that is consistently represented throughout your work.
MM: Why do my paintings inspire you?
LG: I love the unreal nature elements. Serpents, angels, devils, little creatures of unknown origins, things from a place that don't belong to our physical world. 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 and pulling out elements for hand embroidery, and combining the work on garments with little mirror sequins.
MM: What do you love about Melbourne?
LG: It's important culturally, and for the texture of our city, that ideas can be launched, expressed and supported. It's all the great little cafes, galleries, blogs, retailers, designers, publishers, food-makers, collectors and creators of all sorts that make Melbourne. Independence is pretty rife and that's a good thing.
Editor’s note: Mirka’s answers to Lisa’s questions are short because, we can only assume, despite being in her late eighties, she’s too busy making art and being generally fabulous.
Lisa Gorman: Tell us your fondest memories from your early days in Melbourne?
Mirka Mora: I think everybody was very polite and restrained. You had to be careful not to shock people but it was very desirable and exciting to shock people. It creates a nice atmosphere of joking and teasing.
LG: What colour evokes the most emotion for you?
MM: I love red because red is the colour of life. It runs through your veins.
LG: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
MM: I very much liked to listen to my father speak about his childhood. He always told me to have a big dog and I never took his advice!
LG: To you, what are the most precious things in life?
MM: My little family (which is now big) and I love myself.