Michael’s KmitMent To Neo-Byzantine Art

[Edda by Michael Kmit (1966) oil on hardboard 72 x 48]

Ukrainian/Australian artist Michael Kmit was born in Stryi, Lviv on 25 July 1910. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków, but due to the conflict in WW2, he was forced to leave his homeland and as a displaced person moved to Innsbruck, Austria where he met Dorothea (Edda) in 1945. They married in Landeck and later moved to Bregenz where their two daughters, Xenia & Tania (Tatiana) were born. While in post-war Europe Kmit studied under cubist artist Fernand Léger in Paris, and futurist Carlo Carrà in Italy. He then emigrated to Australia in 1949, where he initially worked at a cement factory in Villawood, New South Wales.

Kmit met artists such as James Gleeson Donald Friend and Russell Drysdale, who were impressed with his work. They helped him find lodgings at Merioola and work nearer to the artist community in Sydney. Working by day as a railway porter and cleaner and artist by night, he established himself “as one of Australia’s best artists” of the time. He and his family moved to the United States in 1958, setting up residence in the San Francisco Bay area.

  • Kmit’s art was inspired by the Byzantine era of religious icon painting which earned him the label of a Neo-Byzantine artist, as his paintings integrated stylized portraiture with geometric cubist and constructivist forms, patterns and vivid colour inspired from his teachers Léger and Carrà.
  • In 1969 James Gleeson described Kmit as “one of the most sumptuous colourists of our time”.

Kmit’s American period did not result in a lot of success and he suffered from depression due to the end of his marriage. He returned to Australia in 1965 and remarried.

Until his death in Sydney on 22 May 1981, Kmit had exhibited in numerous group shows throughout Australia and won a number of major Australian art prizes including the Blake Prize (1952) and the Sulman Prize (in both 1957 and 1970).

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