The average commuter passing through Flinders Street Station could remain blissfully unaware for their entire lives of anything more artistic in the station than the endless advertising images. However, as befitting any major public building, there is some commissioned art at Flinders Street Station.
The best of this is the mural by prominent Melbourne painter, Mirka Mora from 1986 next to Clock’s Restaurant at the Yarra river end of the station nearest Princess Bridge. The mural is full of typical Mirka Mora - images of animals, humans, strangers and angels in a garden. Her broad brushstrokes and whimsical figures translate well into the medium of mosaic. It is full of bright colours and a happy ambience and provides an escape from the mundane horrors of the CBD. When Mirka Mora arrived in Melbourne in 1953 she brought a sense of the joy of life to Melbourne’s staid and conservative art world, just as her mural brings joy to the old station.
The entire wall is not a mosaic; the upper frieze and the lower border are painted with low-relief outlines in the wall’s render. Only the middle panel is tiled because mosaics are expensive undertakings, in materials and time. A single artist cannot complete a large mosaic without assistants; in creating the mural Mirka Mora was assisted by Nicola McGann, who now works at a Victorian company, Tactile Mosaics, and Brandon Scott McFadden, who currently lectures at Box Hill Institute.
A particularly observant commuter, perhaps while waiting for someone outside the toilets, might, on glancing high up on the wall inside the main gates, observe a sculpture. “Trades” (1984) by an little known artist Barry Mills, is a construction of carved wooden scaffolding, plumbing, supports, bricks and bus cables. It is a fun take on building materials and construction all cleverly carved entirely from wood.
The sculpture was commissioned, not by the station but by the Building Workers Industrial Union to celebrate the work of its members. It was installed after the redevelopment of the station’s Swanston Street concourse in the 1980's. Barry Mills now works on commission as a wood worker and craftsman in Mt Eliza, Victoria and says he would love to renovate the sculpture which originally had a carved wooden chain as well.
Commuters still looking for art can exit the station via the Degraves Street Underpass to see the monthly exhibitions at Platform, a small artist run initiative to be enjoyed or ignored by the public who pass through the pedestrian underpass.
In 1990 Andrew Seward and Richard Holt established The Platform Artists Group Inc., a non-profit public art organization supported by the City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and the Australia Council. It is Melbourne’s longest running artists-run initiative and public art project. Platform’s space is a series of built-in glass-fronted cases in the underpass. The artists utilized the display cases left behind when the old Mutual Store closed and attracted a different type of commuter/shopper, revitalizing the shops of the Campbell Arcade. The Underpass is open every weekday and on Saturday mornings.
In the last couple of years Platform has expanded to include the “Vitrine” cabinet for larger installations and even performance work and on the other side, next to the coffee bar, the “Sampler” cabinet for art students. Platform has more cabinets at the Majorca Building in Centre Place.
Platform presents a variety of art from students to emerging artists. The glass cases are not easy spaces to use to best effect and the mix of contemporary art and a public underpass has not always been an easy one for the artists or the public. In 2008 the city council censored an exhibition for nudity but the issue was soon eclipsed by the Bill Henson farrago.
Finally the artistically minded commuter emerging up the steps from the subway on the other side of Flinders Street and still looking for art could turn to look back to consider the great red and yellow façade of the station as a statue - a neo-classical triumphal arch celebrating the the metropolitan railways of Melbourne.