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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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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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