The Finkelstein Files: The Art of Living Joyfully

Tolarno’s, a St.Kilda gastronomic institution for many decades of loyal customers gathered regularly to partake the bonhomie and Mirka Mora murals which festooned the walls with ducks, serpents, floral and doll-like motifs.

One of Australia’s best-loved artist, Mirka Mora has passed this week, aged 90, much to the distress of the visual art community. Her work has been revered, enjoyed and collected for as long as Mirka has been creating it. Mirka, one of Melbourne’s most famous bohemians, transformed the culture of her adopted home town since emigrating to Australia in the 1950s from war-torn France.

“Art is the child of the imagination and gives life”, Mirka famously uttered.

Throughout Mirka’s life, art was a constant. Her sensuous, cherubic figures — described by one 1960s art critic as ‘medieval imps’ — are instantly recognisable. Mirka created a prolific output of work spanning across six decades, with a range of media including drawing, painting, embroidery, soft sculpture, mosaics and doll-making.

 

Mirka Mora with her Soft Sculptures, August 29, 1979. Image Courtesy: Fairfax Media.

 

With more than 35 solo exhibitions throughout her career, including a retrospective at Heide Museum of Art in 1999-2000, celebrated 50 years of her work. Later this year in October, Heide will mark her 90th year with Mirka Mora: Pas de Deux – Drawings and Dolls, with its curators have written a book, Mirka and Georges, to coincide with the exhibition.

 

It seems nearly every Melbournite who has worked, lived and breathed amongst the artistic milieu has a Mirka tale to tell, each more arresting and controversially charming than the next. She was the pied-piper of the art tableuax, weaving her special brand of magic-like pixie-dust wherever she went. What a life worth living! Mirka seemed to leave a trail of art-lovers; charming them with her whacky yet wise stories of her colourful life, led with joy. Her joy was infectious, with people often referring to her child-like approach akin to madness – Mirka was perhaps the most sane of all.

 

Mirka’s studio wall, 2014, Tanner St, Richmond, Melbourne.

Widely respected art dealer, son William Mora explains the magic which was Mirka, “an artist and mentor who touched the lives of thousands, she has had an indelible effect on Australia’s cultural life. The joie de vivre she has shared with so many will continue in her immense legacy of art and her spirit of generosity.”

“Her colourful, sensuous iconography has emerged from the breadth of her interests and reading, her love of classical mythology, her desire to reclaim and make sense of childhood and familial relations, and her recognition of the power of sexual desire”.

 

Mirka Mora, Mother and Child, 1984, Gouache on paper, 18 x 13cm.

 

Carrillo Gantner AO, expresses his heart-felt memories in the forthcoming book Mirka Mora, A life of Making Art by Sabine Cotte, published by Thames and Hudson Australia and  due for release in 2019:

“Many years ago my wife and I were sitting with Mirka in the café at the Australian National Gallery in Canberra. I asked her to tell me the story of her miraculous escape at age 13 from the train heading to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. She started to relate how she wrote a note with the names of the stations she was passing on a scrap of paper addressed to her father in Paris and pushed it out through a crack in the cattle truck in which she was being transported. Someone picked it up and sent it on to her father who worked out where she was headed. He bribed the Nazi authorities and she was released at the gates of Auschwitz with the eyes of the inmates staring out at her through the barbed wire. Then in the midst of the café crowd, Mirka burst into wild, incongruous laughter.


Mirka Mora, Friends and Lovers, 2004, Oil on Canvas, 119.5 x 119.5cm.

 

“Those large round eyes staring out at her are there in so many of her paintings and other works. So is her laughter in the face of death and in her commitment to the outrageous and colourful miracle of life. You cannot help but fall in love with Mirka. Everyone who meets her or stands before her work feels the sense of joy and of life lived to the max. If Australia had National Living Treasures as they do in Japan, Mirka Mora would undoubtedly be one of ours”,

 

Mirka Mora, Medieval Gathering (1987-1992), Oil on Canvas, 122.0 × 214.0cm, Image courtesy: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

 

“Mirka always said that my mother bought the very first painting she ever sold, and many others in the decades that followed. They remained the closest of friends and I grew up with regular injections of her art, her delicious French accent and delicious French cooking, her laughter and her occasional behavioural extremes. She always managed to put herself at the epicentre of attention, punching her fist into my 40th birthday cake, grabbing my hand and jumping into the swimming pool fully clothed at a polite Toorak party, turning a thank you speech at a Town Hall dinner in her honour into a dissertation on the delights of the clitoris, or hoisting her hospital gown to show me and her delighted hospital roommates her generous surgical scar and so much more. 

 

Mirka Mora, Together, 1996, Oil on Canvas, 50.5 x 61cm.

 

“For my mother, Mirka represented the freedom of the artist’s life that she wished she herself might have led were it not for family pressures and social convention. For my children, Mirka almost came from another world, bearing the pleasures of surprise and fantasy. She would draw some strange creature for them and inspire them to repay the favour with their own imaginative scribbles. They loved her. Absolutely everyone loved her, whether they were children or elderly students at her Adult Education classes who imagined once again that they just might be.”

 

 

“First and always foremost, Mirka was an artist. She loved to paint or build soft creatures or embroider pictures or set mosaics. Every day of her life she worked tirelessly at her art, always sketching or pulling out her watercolours or researching images in ancient art books, always with the intensity of someone who treasured life and valued time. Even as she grew old, she told me that she had to work at her easel for hours every day, summoning mythological angels, animals, birds and plants in vivid colours. And always there were those eyes.”

Mirka’s vivacious personality and her vitality pegged her as a creative who blurred the boundaries by speaking with spirited sense of humanity. Thank you Mirka – you will certainly always be remembered for your exuberance and for exemplifying the art of joyful living.

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The Finkelstein Files: In My Room

“Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women; kitchen of lust, bedroom of grief, bathroom of apathy.”

– from ‘The House’ by Warsan Shire

In My Room is the telling title of Helen Gory’s newest body of works – at once an invitation and a provocation. Strongly symbolist in nature and style, she has created a blueprint that challenges the viewer to encroach on her personal space; both as audience and interrogator.

Gilt-laden images are scratched into the paper, challenging its singular appearance. I am reminded of Austrian-born artist Gustav Klimt, who once said something like ‘art is a line around your thoughts’. This idea resonates throughout Gory’s works, which are at once deeply personal and universal. Draw a line; make a point; take a stand; risk something.

Gory’s oil-stick women delve backwards into unrevealed pockets of spaces, memories compartmentalised into separate ‘rooms’. Her challenge – and ours – is to slowly, carefully unpack these subtle chimeras; expose their interior to the outer world. Woman with Leaf speaks loudest without uttering a word. Verging on naïve, these night-shade women hover between darkness and illumination. Their talisman tools may well be props; striking a pose that both regales and invites us inside.

Helen Gory opened her own contemporary commercial art gallery in 1995. Helen Gory Galerie was a pioneer in supporting emerging practitioners, many of whom have gone on to become Australia’s leading visual artists. In 2008, Gory closed her gallery to pursue a long-unfulfilled desire to make art.

Golden Bars, 2018

Paper Collage and Oil Stick on Art Paper, 140 x 110cm.

It’s a Challenge, 2018

Paper Collage and Oil Stick on Art Paper, 140 x 110cm.

Walking Back To Happiness, 2018

Paper Collage and Oil Stick on Art Paper, 140 x 110cm.

Gory’s work is best described as visual stories where humour and joy sit side-by-side with the shadows that they cast. She is concerned with uncovering what is hidden, with the act of revelation. Through the repeated motifs of fragmented body parts, women, and elements of the natural world, her often-surreal images speak of desire, longing, angst and the power of transformation.

(det.) The Leaf, 2018, Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

The Leaf, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

Gory works across various medium to construct these visual narratives. Her first primary medium, collage, allows her to deconstruct, fragment, (dis)connect and reassemble, the process of creation a metaphor for the complexity and layering of human experience.

More recently, Gory has segued from collage to painting and drawing. Using oil stick, graphite and charcoal in scribbling and scratching-like motions, she adds/removes layers in a repetitive act of mark-making that is intrinsic to the interior world she is revealing.

The Pods, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

(det.) The Pods, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

The Scarf, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

The Scarf, 2018

Oil Paint on Paper, 109 x 67cm

Last weekend to see In My Room!

Head to: Backwoods Gallery, 25 Easey Street, Collingwood, VIC, Australia (map)

The Finkelstein Files: The Winds of Change

I love it when the spring shifts ever so slightly into summery mode. If you are based in Melbourne, Australia – you may also have taken note & fished out your sandals last week when the mercury hit 31 degrees two days, back-to-back. Alas, as optimistic as even the most seasoned veteran of our blink-and -you’ll-miss- it weather down south, we are back to halcyon high-wind days filled with woeful hay fever and awful allergies fluttering through our day.

Summer, where are you?? Please hurry! We miss you and want you back!

Above: Thierry B, On The Rise, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen, 183 x 152cm, P.O.A.

Michelle Breton, Honey Dreaming, Mixed media on Canvas, 137 x 153cm, P.O.A


Above: Patricia Heaslip, Landlines, Oil on Canvas, 183 x 183cm, P.O.A

 

Above: Thierry B, Satisfaction, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen, 122 x 91.5cm, P.O.A.

Even As I thumb through my latest novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti, I am willing the weather toward sunshiney days/daze:

“Summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. For those few months, you’re not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don’t have the rest of the year. You can be grateful and easy, with no eyes on you, and no past. Summer just opens the door and lets you out.”

Above: Thierry B, Submerged, Synthetic Polymer Paint On Linen 184 x 153 cm,  P.O.A

Above: Thierry B, Effervescence, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen,  122 x 168cm, P.O.A

Above: Michelle Breton Trompette au Soleil, Mixed Media on Canvas, 153 x 137cm, P.O.A

I also feel I need to tell you that I started the day by ordering at my local cafe Mr.Brightside a plate of summer! I couldn’t go past their special menu which had got a little summer make over today. This is Challah French Toast with raspberry mascarpone, fresh berries and maple. Never one to do things half-heartedly, I added a berry smoothy in for good measure! So delicious. Now all we need are some seriously good sunsets beachside , with some Frose or Negroni spritzers & we’re talking!!

Inspired by this sunset snap last week (above), I throw it out to the weather gods that be – summer where for art thou?!! If I cannot bask in the light of a shimmering summer day, than I will go in search of finding other ways to bring the energy inwards – paintings perform this function. They engage and enliven a previously empty space, lending it life and an anchor for your gaze. Take a closer look at the new offerings by Australian talent we have in the gallery stockroom now to view.

Above: Michelle Breton, Octobre a Ceret, Mixed Media on Canvas, 152 x 137cm, P.O.A

Patricia Heaslip, The Essences, Oil On Canvas, 152.5 x 106 cm, P.O.A.

Patricia Heaslip, Fortitude, Oil On Canvas, 183 x 183cm, P.O.A.

Above: Michelle Breton, Rising Candy, Mixed Media on Canvas, 183 x 152cm, P.O.A

As potential collector and client of Thierry B Fine Art, we are excited to offer Autralia-wide complimentary delivery to your home or business address. To place your order, email art@thierrybfineart.com or call directly on: +613 9827 7756. Thierry B Fine Art is located at 473 Malvern Rd, South Yarra.

Gallery hours: Monday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm or by appointment: 0404 861 438.

The Finkelstein Files: Golden Repair

Above: Remembering the Pattern, 2016

Analogue collage, oil stick on hand painted rag paper, 34 x 46cm.

Above: Where The Sun Don’t Shine, 2016

Analogue collage, oil stick on hand painted rag paper, 35 x 45cm.

“Helen Gory’s art pivots upon its connections. Its power lies in its links. Her images seem to unspool and reveal an almost filmic flow of associations. Golden Repair, the title of her solo exhibition at Chapman & Bailey in Abbotsford, refers to the Japanese procedure of Kintsugi. This process brings together and reconnects fragments of that which was whole; it is, in essence, an embrace of imperfection. For Gory, the procedure stands as an analogy of the honest acceptance of often overlooked and almost forgotten aspects of her inner self. It’s a type of re-stitching – an aesthetically realigned spill-out of the contents of a mental handbag.”

Attending the opening of the exhibition, I was reminded of the astute observations of esteemed art historian, Ken Wach, (above) as he waxed lyrical about Gory’s gilt creations. An Associate Professor and former Head of Creative School of Art at Melbourne University, Wach has long proved a valuable treasure trove of knowledge when sluicing to the core of an artists’ intention.

Above: (detail.) Never Ending, 2016

Collage and oil stick on paper, 140 x 100cm.

The mixed-media works in Golden Repair speak of desire and displacement. Through her art Gory searches for patterns and meanings; her mind is seduced by connections and coincidences as it points toward a form of self-interrogation. Thoughts are prompted by fractured, fragmentary and juxtaposed images – an inventive vision of constructed parts rather than given wholes.

“This body of work is autobiographical, and has taken me close to three years,’ says Gory. “To celebrate that which is not perfect resonates deeply with me. These distortions and missing bits and pieces, floating in mid-air, are expressions of seeing beauty in who we are, as we are,” explains Gory. “Finding the connections are our strengths.”

Above (Left to Right) : Three generations of Gory women together, artist Helen Gory with her daughter and grand-daughter.

Recognising the beauty in broken things, is interwoven with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi – to find beauty in broken or old things. By giving new life, or rebirth to objects by celebrating their flaws and history, the 15th century practice of Kintsugi can be applied to life. To find value in the missing pieces – to bring light the scars that have come from our experiences, to find new purpose through seeing the beauty of imperfection – is a gift of innate prosperity.

I have long been an ardent fan of the collage as a unique medium of exploration – signposting our most primal visual markers. Assemblage is a dense and intricate process not for the feint-hearted as Gory explains of her practice. Gory’s ability to track and expand upon her ideas are referenced here in an earlier body of works here.

For an artist, who once was firmly fixed on the spectator side of the studio, her gallerist eye is sharp and pincer-like. An advantage of two decades of running a commercially successful exhibition space, and nurturing the fledgling careers of many of Melbourne’s finest talent, Gory has a head start. To then be able to ‘un-see’ what she can already ‘see’ is the trick to tying it all together. The Guts & the Gory.

Above: Holding My Flame, 2016

Oil Stick on Board, 38 x 34cm.

Above: Feeding the Donkey, 2016

Oil stick and pastel on paper, 122 x 86cm.

From a collectability perspective, the works are genuine nuggets of gold. Priced extremely affordably, it is tempting to select more than one work of art. A pair juxtaposed and pitted against themselves works well. I often ask my twin 7 year-olds their opinion on new works – their untrained eyes often ‘see’ better than most jaded buyers with decades of viewing under their proverbial belts. After a short discussion, they both select the same work – declaring it ‘special’.

A week post-opening, the collection is fast on its way to selling out – audiences are aware that what they see and feel resonates within long after stepping away from the image. That’s how great art is meant to make you feel. That you have stumbled upon something precious that makes you feel joyous!

Golden Repair is on until April 1st at Chapman And Bailey, 350 Johnston St, Abbotsford. For sales call the gallery 03 94158666, mon-fri, 10-5.30, sat 10.30-4.30.

The Finkelstein Files: Cut & Paste

The female figure features often in Sally Smart’s artwork. Sometimes they’re rendered in quirky collages comprising magazine cut-outs and at other times are constructed from a mixture of fabrics and everyday objects. Her methods of cutting, pinning, sewing and stitching result in dynamic works of a layered, highly tactile nature, and allow her to ‘describe’ a rhythmic movement in both large-scale installations and smaller pieces.

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The Finkelstein Files: Your work has long explored the representation of feminine identity, pointing to activities in our histories that were associated with women. Contributing to this is your choice of materials – silk, felt, everyday fabrics – and the performative aspects in your art-making of cutting, sewing and stitching. Can you tell me about the importance of your process-orientated practice?

Sally Smart: The process-orientated practice has been various and usually very conceptually orientated along the way. My practice had primarily oriented around painting. Given that, a lot of content of the paintings is the same as the content today – details that make elements of identity. A lot of that has remained the same, delving into women’s histories and cultural histories.

In the 1990s I was interested in the contemporary ideas of identity and gender politics, and the unstable nature of identity constructions generally. I used the technique of pinning to emphasise this – a pin away from dismantling. This work conceptually and technically laid the foundations for my installation cut-out works. In making some work around this time, I began cutting out fragments of the body and laying elements out. I found I preferred cutting elements of my images and laying them onto the canvas and it gave me the density and dynamic that I was looking for in my art-making. I didn’t need to replicate anymore – it made it look like collage.

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TFF: So is it in the physical act of doing and making that you resolve the concepts and ideas behind your work?

SS: Not really. It’s not in the making part of the process. It’s more in the research part of the making. I use a lot of models and so I need to know where they’re going to go. It’s probably more through drawing and diagrams. Issues of identity and gender is a discourse central to developing my work conceptually and technically. The use of materials is integral to the conceptual unfolding of my work – the process of cutting, pinning, staining and stitching – and their association with women’s practices.

TFF:Found imagery and magazine cut-outs are integral parts of your assemblage and collage installations. You rework and render these images into your compositions and installations. Where do these images originate? Are they the impetus that forms an idea, a concept, or do you seek out specific images that feed an interest or line of investigation?

SS:I started making large-scale installation works based around metaphors – to do with cutting, dissecting, taking things apart, and often with a psychological base as well. I’d discovered a psychological condition called delicate cutting – that sort of cutting of the body, scarification, and mainly afflicting young women. It’s a cathartic psychosis. From this I started looking more closely at medical metaphors, looking inside and outside the body. And the cut – both the cutting and rearranging, taking apart and also reconstructing.

Recently I have become interested to look at choreographic techniques and how these might connect to the collage methodologies specific to my practice: the movement of elements in space; improvisation and rehearsal; and how these actions might be described and visualised in drawing.

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TFF: There are a number of parallel themes that run through your work and have done so for a number of years. The figure is a prominent feature. What role do you see the figure plays in your work? Is there something of you?

SS: It’s not so much me in a portrait, representational sense. The figure is a sign, an armature for identity. It’s a lived and shared experience we all have when looking at the body in art – it’s a great vehicle. It’s extremely visible in the history of art. It has it’s connection to the brain and the psychological.

In relation to my body, there is a connection to my body – my hand, arm, brain – in the process of pinning and walking around, backwards and forwards, as much as representing my hand or limb, which I might photograph and use in the work, but it’s not a direct link. It’s a more complex and rhythmic connection to the work – I can’t ever disconnect myself even if I’m not saying I’m making a direct portrait of myself.
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TFF: What is the importance of an exhibition space for installations, given much of your work is site – or space – specific?

SS: It’s not an initial driver. But I use the grid as a structure and a way to navigate my way through a space or a wall. It’s a great way to control and define the presentation. The work is still driven by the conceptual elements, which are laid into the site. The site doesn’t affect the original making but it affects the outcome, in a way.

 

TFF: What are some of your other influences? Theatre? Dance?

SS: My act of cutting, drawing and assembling, led me to investigate ‘choreographers’ drawing’ – notations and marks used to render, map, define, describe a movement or a sequence of movements or a feeling. This has also meant looking at the performance/dance work of Martha Graham and using photographic images of costumes from her famous work Appalachian Spring.

My work is about making a visual construction of ideas like mapping, diagramming, charting or planning; but open, showing the process of that kind of working, drawing, assembling. The connection to performance, both in the attitude of making – literally combining elements in situ – to the ‘rehearsal’ in my studio, and the representation of legs, arms, swishing skirts, and the ‘interior body/dress drawing’ all combine to accentuate movement. The whole wall is installed (choreographed) with many movements: a performance.
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See Sally’s AUSiMED artwork here

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