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A Portrait with Mirka Mora
Edition Three

A Portrait with Mirka Mora

The Story

  • Interview Joshua Elias
  • Photographer James Morgan
  • Location The studio of Mirka Mora

We shared a coffee with renowned Australian artist, Mirka Mora. Cheeky and vibrant, she waxed lyrical on her memories, rituals and philosophy.

Growing up in Paris

You have no idea what it was like to be in Paris: to grow up during the era of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. You would wait for their next book and the whole of Paris would be waiting with you, it was so exciting.

You could live all your life floating from one café to another. In Paris, I’d take breakfast in that one, lunch in that one and dinner in another one. William’s* father was like that. When we first married, we always had lunch in restaurants. I’d say of him, ‘It’s funny, he doesn’t like my cooking.’ I didn’t realise how fabulous it was [to eat out]. My husband was much older than me; he was a very sophisticated man. He loved restaurants and he loved women… 

I used to like pastis. I was not allowed to have it when I was a child but I always got hold of it—I was very naughty as a child. It’s amazing that I’m a good person as an adult! I did all the wrong things as a child: to amuse myself and to learn. When you grow up during wartime, it is not a normal life. It is like growing up in a forest.

Coffee & Tea

I like my coffee as it comes—I’m a real coffee addict. It can excite you [but] if your heart starts to beat too fast then you must stop. I met with a scientist and she told me that coffee
is very good for you—I trust her and I believe her. I love tea too… I like the ceremony of tea, the whole process. 

We used to have our studio at number nine Collins Street [Melbourne] and I had to feed everyone all the time. I told my husband, ‘I can’t really have everyone in my studio all the time.’ So we built a café and this became a new place for everyone to eat. The room had a beautiful bar that was built for us by artists.

It was a beautiful place. We didn’t even know the history of it; it had been the studio of Tom Roberts and also Frederick McCubbin … you could feel the atmosphere—you could have cut it with a knife, it was fabulous. John and Sunday Reed leant us their entire collection of paintings to hang on the walls. We had Sidney Nolan, Percy Wild: all the great paintings that nobody would buy back then but would be gold now.

One day [at the café] I was all alone: I remember it was three o’clock in the afternoon and I saw a beautiful couple in the doorway. They didn’t come in, they just looked from a distance. The lady asked, ‘could we please have a French ham sandwich?’ As I answered, I noticed that it was in fact Catherine Hepburn and Sir Robert Helpmann. It was just heavenly to see them.

A Swig of d'Yquem

I like to enjoy wine any time. Today I’m on my best behaviour. I want to be a good example … [asking the Alquimie team] would you like a glass of wine? I’ve never been completely sloshed, I mean, maybe …
when I was young. John Perceval always drank so much and you had to drink with him. You couldn’t leave him alone—he needed company.

“When we had the Tolarno bistro in St Kilda, Mirka would order the wine for the restaurant and she’d order half a dozen of Château d'Yquem. The box would instantly disappear into her studio as a stock loss. I remember my father’s reaction, ‘Where are the Château d’Yquem?’ It was the same story with the fine armagnacs.” —William Mora

Thoughts on Painting

I’ve always been adamant that I want to sleep in my studio. It is my dream to sleep in my studio! Then, when you wake up, you are straight away with your work. It is so nice.

That’s my rule. You never finish it. You don’t think of the word finish. It’s a bit like music, when all is in tune and nothing disturbs you, it is a good sign. Lately, I do something that an artist shouldn’t do—I work at night in the dark. I’m very careful. Light is a mysterious thing. 

It must never be psycho-logical. As soon as I fall into “psychological” thoughts, I destroy everything I’ve done. It must not be emotional either: that’s the mystery of art. I’m self-taught; that way you are free, you’re free to make big mistakes. I shouldn’t use the word mistake though—it is part of searching. 

If you are a painter, you have to be careful what you put in your mind. I can’t do a lot of things because I have to protect my paintings.

* William is Mirka’s son

“Next time you come I'll buy you some champagne...”

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