This Michael Kmit self-portrait – his first work selected for the Archibald – was awarded a 'rebel’ Archibald Prize by NSW’s Contemporary Art Society. It is now in the collection of The University of Queensland.
Kmit was one of many artists who emigrated to Australia, displaced from their homelands during World War II. As part of the Australian Government’s immigration scheme, he was contracted to work in a series of temporary jobs, including in a cement factory and as a railway porter and cleaner. In his artistic life, however, he found support and encouragement from influential Australian artists and critics such as James Gleeson, Paul Haefliger and Judy Cassab. He was prolific during the 1950s and 1960s, winning numerous awards including the 1953 Blake Prize for religious art and the 1957 and 1970 Sulman Prize for genre painting.
A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, Poland, Kmit was influenced by Byzantine icon painting, mosaic and folk art from his homeland in Ukraine, and the works of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. His distinctive portraits, with their emotive use of rich and luminous colour, patterning and geometric forms, were well received in Australia. Kmit’s unique approach influenced many artists, particularly those in the artists’ colony at the Merioola mansion in Sydney, where he lived in 1950.