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Tag Archives: Mirka Mora

Tuesday – exhibitions and craft festival

On Tuesday I was in Melbourne and found myself with about an hour to use. Not many commercial or artist-run galleries are open on a Tuesday but I did managed to see a few exhibitions and have some take-away sushi for lunch.

Mirka Mora and 300 people, c.1980

There was a Mirka Mora exhibition on the first floor of Melbourne City Library on Flinders Lane. If you like Mora’s colourful work then this exhibition is a must and, if you don’t, it is still worth seeing in terms of Melbourne’s art history. The exhibition is a study of her influence on Melbourne’s art; history merging with the present.

Her influence was greater than I thought, because I didn’t know that she was a teacher at the CAE. Although artists rarely cite their art teachers as influence they are an important starting influence. The exhibition features bookplates, painted dolls, memorabilia and photographs, and six panels from the Castlemaine art train in 1978 that Mirka painted assisted by 300 other people.

I then walked up Flinders Lane to 141 where Mailbox Artspace had “The Curiosities”curated by Glenn Barkley. I had walked past the opening last Thursday evening; people crowed into the foyer at 6:30 as I hurried past already late. The curiosity of the wooden glass-fronted mailbox cabinets is matched with the contents featuring the work of nineteen artists that lived up to the exhibition’s title. The exhibition was part at Craft Cubed, the festival of the handmade currently on in Melbourne.

There was more of Craft Cubed festival in the Campbell’s Arcade, the underpass to Flinders Street Station, in the Dirty Dozen vitrines. “Craft Window Walk” features a dozen vitrine of the work a dozen crafters; ceramics, textiles, jewellery, beading and printing. There was more at the Stick Institute with Liminal Magazine and at Shop 8 with the Millinery Association of Australia.

Catriona Fraser’s beaded rock badges were a lot of fun: “What would Dolly do?” “What would Willie say?”And it was good to see Rose Agnew’s boutenniers, flowers made from vintage cutlery and sterling silver.

I had plenty of time to look at the last exhibition because I just missed the Upfield train and had nineteen minutes to wait for the next one. There is twenty minute between trains at the best time on the Upfield line, when the train hasn’t been cancelled, which is more than common. I wish that I lived in a city with a public transport system instead of the pathetic excuse that Melbourne operates. 

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Painted Trains, Trams & Cars

Graffiti painted trains was the classic format of 1980s and 90s but are there any connection to the Russian painted Agitprop train of 1919? The Agitprop train (“agitprop” a portmanteau word combining agitation and propaganda) was sent out to announce the revolution across Russia; its painted carriages were a demonstration of what the future would be like. (There is a 1919 film about the Agitprop trains on YouTube.)

Flinders Street with painted train

I know that some hardcore aerosol graffiti writers would like to see a connection between this but I’m not sure. It is not as if graffiti writers have the patent on painting trains. The intention of all these officially decorated modes of trains is to enhance its prestige and attraction whereas the graffiti writers are painting for their own reasons.

In the age of railway, trains were often decorated, most frequently in patriotic flags, or specially painted. The Americans had a “Freedom Train” in 1947 painted red, white and blue. France’s president, Charles De Gaulle’ had a private gold and silver decorated train. As well as politicians, circus animal also travelled in brightly painted and decorated railway cars; the brightly painted cages were as part of the attraction.

I am reliably informed that trains are still being painted in Melbourne but I haven’t seen that many in the past years but then I’m not spending a lot of time hanging out on railway platforms where multiple train lines are visible. The war between the railways and the graff writers continues – like all wars the results are often ugly and a peaceful resolution appears impossible.

Melbourne had 40 painted trams in service from 1978 until 1993. It was called “The Transporting Art project” and begun by the Ministry of the Arts under then Premier Rupert Hamer. The artists who painted trams the include: Howard Arkley, Mike Brown, Michael Leunig, Mirka Mora, John Nixon, Clifton Pugh, David Larwill and Lin Onus. (St. Kilda Historical Society has an essay by Joan Auld on Mirka Mora’s tram.) Melbourne needs to revive this art project instead of selling the trams bodies for advertising space.

In 1993 Qantas went bigger and several aircraft painted by aboriginal artists. When will we see the first aeroplane painted by a notable street artist?

Painted Van in Melbourne

I try to photograph all the painted cars, vans and trucks that I see, there aren’t many on the road. (For more pictures see my blog post about Automotive Graffiti.) The hippy tradition of a painted van that started with Ken Keasey’s psychedelic painted bus, “Further” remains a hippy tradition. As a culture we need to ask why are people in Indian and SE Asia happy to decorate their vehicles when the wealthier Westerners don’t? Is the re-sale value more important than the personalisation?


Time & Tiles

Mirka Mora’s broad brushstrokes and whimsical figures translate well into the medium of mosaic. Wall mosaics were once the popular media for public art in Melbourne and there are some that have aged well, for example, the Flinders Street Station Mural by Mirka Mora, 1986. The mural is on the inside wall at the Yarra river end of the station next to Clock’s Restaurant. The entire wall is not a mosaic, only the central panel is, the decorative upper frieze is painted and the lower border is painted with low-relief outlines. Tiled wall mosaics are expensive undertakings, in materials and time. A single artist cannot be completed a large mosaic without assistants. In creating the Flinders Street Station Mural Mirka Mora was assisted by Nicola McGann, who now works a Victorian company, Tactile Mosaics, and Brandon Scott McFadden, who currently lectures at Box Hill Institute. Mirka Mora also created a mosaic mural at St. Kilda Pier.

Mirka Mora, Flinders Street Station Mural, 1986

detail Flinders St. Station mural

The bronze didactic plaque for the Flinders Street Station Mural refers to the two other major public mosaics in Melbourne: at Newspaper House and the East Hill Fire Station (see my post: The Legend of Harold Freedman). The Flinders Street Station Mural is a typical laughing response by Mirka Mora to the high seriousness of these earlier mosaics.

“Communication” by M. Napier Waller, 1933, is a large wall mosaic on the first floor of the front of Newspaper House in Collins Street. The slogan “I’ll put a girdle round the world” (Shakespeare, Midsummer Nights Dream) that runs across the top of the mosaic is a reference to  the newspapers, The Herald & Weekly Times and not corsetry. Typical for the time the mosaic’s conservative late 19th Century style incorporates a few modern references including a car and train. A copy of newspaper The Herald is directly behind the central trumpet-blowing figure. Although mosaic was made in 1933 it bears the date 3 January 1840 in Roman numerals (“III January MDCCCXXXX) for the founding of The Herald. There are other murals and wall mosaics by Waller at the University of Melbourne and in Melbourne’s CBD including the mosaic “Prometheus”, 1967, Monash House foyer, William St, Melbourne.

M. Napier Waller, “Communication”, 1933

detail of "Communication"

There are other buildings with less artistic and grand mosaics in Melbourne. Near the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth St. Flinders Arcade has is tiled façade. The tiles have the image of a golden sun that a metal skeletal figure of a crowned merman armed with a trident in front of it. There is a hard edge abstract mosaic on the side of the building on the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders St. in Melbourne, a faded folly of high modernism.

Ceramic tile wall mosaics in Melbourne might appear to be a trivial topic in art history. Most have dated badly, none of them are masterpieces but they draw attention to an ignored part of Melbourne. Melbourne used to have a lot more tiles. The outside and inside walls of Melbourne’s pubs were tiled, making it easy to wash the vomit off. There were tiled mosaics sign for shops, still visible in some of the older shops, like the “Buckley and Nunn” sign above David Jones, as well as, higher up above the second floor windows.

Although mosaics are durable they do require some maintenance  – the Flinders Street Station Mural was restored in 1998. But due to their durability wall mosaics will continue in contemporary Melbourne public art such as Pamela Irving recent mosaics at Patterson Station.


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