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Michael Kmit was born in 1910 in Western Ukraine and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Cracow. He taught painting in Poland and Austria and worked in Italy, Paris and Vienna. Kmit arrived in Australia in 1950, holding his first solo exhibition in his newly adopted home country the following year. His unique neo-Byzantine style produced paintings where stylised portraiture was integrated with geometric forms, patterns and vivid colour.
Kmit quickly found success in Australia, receiving a commendation, second prize and finally winning the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1953. In the 1953 shows of the Sydney Group at David Jones, Kmit’s works were exhibited alongside prominent iconic Australian artists including Tim Bass, Arthur Boyd, Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, James Gleeson, Paul Haefliger, Francis Lymburner and Justin O'Brien. On October 1, 1953, The Sydney Morning Herald Art Critic reviewed the David Jones show, describing Kmit’s ‘Lesson’ as “a brilliant mosaic of colour. Sentiment here, however, turns into satire and humanity is reduced to the status of a puppet. Life is a game and man performs for the benefit of the artist.”
Kmit consistently impressed the art world with his original approach to Byzantine-inspired religious icon painting, taking out the Perth Prize in 1954, the Critics' Prize for Contemporary Art in 1955, the Darcy Morris Memorial Prize in 1956 and the Sulman Prize in 1957.
Kmit moved to the USA in 1958. When he returned to make Australia his permanent home in 1965, his changed style of painting was met with caution. By 1979 Kmit had rekindled the fervor of his 1950s works. In the same year he suffered a near fatal heart attack yet remained a prolific artist until his death in 1981. Kmit’s works are represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery University collections in Sydney and Brisbane, Mertz Collection, USA and many regional galleries. Kmit’s significant contribution to the Australian abstract movement was acknowledged by Australian art historians, with reproductions of his works appearing in books on contemporary Australian art. His works also graced the covers of mainstream media including The Bulletin and The Australian Women’s Weekly.
Michael Kmit is widely regarded as the most successful of all Australian-Ukrainian artists.
“Of all the foreign aspirants to art who have visited these shores since the war, Michael Kmit is the only one who has made an impression on the present generation of painters.” Paul Haefliger