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 Guts & the Gory

Helen Gory has long held a fascination for me, firstly as a gallerist, well-regarded for her sharp eye, can-do hands-on approach to people & the selling of artworks and more recently, as an effervescent powerhouse of a woman – a surprise package. Happily mentor, art adviser & friend all rolled into one, Gory has garnered a loyal following over her two decade long commitment to celebrating & championing some of Melbourne’s brightest talent.

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Artist Helen Gory and creative, Adrian Elton at the JCP Studios for THROUGH THESE PAPER WALLS exhibition opening last month.

Her artists’ and buyers alike are dealing with the loss they may feel akin to losing a dear friend upon the closure of the Prahran gallery space mid 2013 to join forces with Dianne Tanzer under the amusing banner of THIS IS NO FANTASY, inspired by the neon-lit truisms of famed American artist Jenny Holzer. This relationship was well-received last year as the logical if not market-savvy acknowledgement of the shifting of gallery models which has long been hotly debated and bandied about town for the past few years in earnest.

Gory had already entrusted the daily operations to then gallery manager Nicola Stein, now director, feeling as though the mantle had been passed safely to another to continue the path Gory has paved. Opportunities and challenges aside, Gory has quietly stepped back now entirely. It seemed an obvious choice.

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‘How many gallerists are needed to change a light bulb’ begs the age-old joke?  If your name is Helen Gory, well – just one. She is a do-er, a maker. It’s no surprise that she has emerged metamorphosis-like from the cocoon into the light, able to spread her wings outward into full flight.

I am for one, uber excited to be present at the first of what I feel certain will be the beginning of a natural unfurling of a talented artist who has jumped the fence from seller to maker. Interestingly, her vision is a s broad as it is defined as far as her influences are concerned.

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Dignity, 2014

 

‘Even though I’ve surrounded myself with art for the best part of 20 years, I’ve only just begun to create my own art. I cried the very first time I sat at my new workspace. I cried because for the first time in my life I actually made the time to make art. I cried because I don’t know why I waited so long to start. Perhaps all this will be revealed another time in another exhibition or perhaps it just wont be necessary any longer.’ – Helen Gory

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‘The images are wishful, improbable, overwhelmingly busy, or minimal. They can be anything. I’m happy if they are emotionally evocative, tell a story or totally ambiguous. Sometimes subtle and sometimes in your face, secretive and political. I want to keep exploring. My real world and my pretend world are merging. Fantasy and reality, injustice and cruelty, pure love and joy. I can find them all in the images, scraps, tears and cuts I make. I can make my own world and shut out the real world.”

‘I like that I can see where the page is torn and the image cut, it’s not slick and it’s not perfection. I keep the works fairly small to a medium size mainly due to the constraints of the paper. It’s the spontaneity of the process and the rawness of the paper combined with the quirkiness of the content that seduce the viewer into looking intently at the final artwork.’

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Hang the Rat, 2014

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A Fine Balance, 2013

‘I’ve loved the manifesto of Dada since I read about it as a young teenager. I don’t believe that I really understood its underground nature and subversive attitude but it spoke to me nevertheless.Moreover the art of Art Spiegelman, Egon Schiele, Hannah Hoch, Gustav Klimt, Francisco Goya, Emil Nolde, Diane Arbus has forever haunted me. Without being consciously aware when I started collage two years ago, these former influences of my teenage youth are shaping what I’m creating today. It’s like breathing. I feel utterly natural doing it. I recently read that a majority of female artists of the early 20th century chose collage as their preferred medium of art and so it seems I’ve joined the ranks.’

‘My daughter came up with the title, ‘through these paper walls’. It’s from a poem we can’t locate nor recall its author. It’s so apt. The medium of paper and the walls that I’ve finally broken down and braved to begin doing art.’

The Curtain, 2012

The Curtain, 2012

28. walking back to happiness

Walking Back to Happiness, 2013

 

Party Room, 2012, analogue collage, 55 x38cm.

Party Room, 2012

‘Secrets, desires, absurd ideas of woman and who they should be, how they should look, sex, politics, fashion, social injustices. I feel helpless to do anything so I let out my frustrations and anger here in these works. And I try not to be repetitive. Lou Reed once said “why would I want to play the same song the same way every time I performed live, I’d rather cut off my toes.” I like his sense of drastic.’

‘Collage allows me the freedom I need to express myself. I’m here and I’m excited and happy to be creating. I don’t want to stop. As my son once told me, Hokusai didn’t start his art career until he was 75 years of age. So I’ve started, and I hope to continue.’

Somehow, I think she will.

TFF. xx

Through these paper walls was recently exhibited @ JCP Studios in Cremorne. If you missed viewing the works in person & would like to see more, please contact the artist for enquiries: helen@helengory.com