There are few Melburnians who could even hope to have the kind of enduring cultural and culinary influence of one Mirka Mora. In a career that dates back to her and her husband George’s arrival in Australia from France in 1951, the artist, restauranteur and patron has had a profound impact on a city that — thanks to people such as herself — has since become a cultural, creative and gastronomic hub.

Forging close friendships with Heide founders John and Sunday Reed — as well as a host of key Australian artists of the era such as Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Charles Blackman — her seemingly naïve oeuvre of colour-drenched paintings, drawings, soft sculptures and dolls made her one of the more prolific and loved artists of the time.

She and her husband’s numerous culinary endeavours, meanwhile, helped catalyse Melbourne’s now rich food culture. Their Mirka Cafe in Exhibition Street, which opened in 1954, was said to have Melbourne’s first espresso machine, while their subsequent ventures, Balzac (in East Melbourne) and Tolarno (in St Kilda), went on to become staples in the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene.

In what might be considered both an homage and a reunion, Heide Museum of Modern Art is exhibiting a vast body of Mora’s artworks. The exhibition — which follows a major retrospective, Where Angels Fear to Tread, at the same venue in 1999 — will feature over 50 of her drawings, paintings, soft sculptures and dolls from the Heide collection, plus a newly commissioned, large-scale painting spanning the windows of the Heide I sunroom.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the show, curated by Kendrah Morgan, is the clutch of personal messages and inscriptions that feature on many of the works, which Mora originally gave to the Reeds as gifts during the course of their lasting friendship. Beyond Mora the artist and Mora the Melbourne icon, MIRKA promises to grant us an insight into the Mora person.

The details: MIRKA runs until next May at the Heide Museum of Modern Art.

*This article was first published on Broadsheet

Peter Fray

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