Abstract Australis
Abstract Australis
Brighton, Victoria 3186 Australia
Ph: 0407 501 808
ABN: 66 086 690 771
[email protected]

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Michael Digby KITCHING (b.1940; d.2019)

Michael Digby (Mike) Kitching was born in Hull, Yorkshire in England in 1940 and grew up in Cheshire. He moved to Australia with his family in 1952 and lived in Sydney’s Northern beaches area. Kitching had no formal art training. As a child, he loved to paint with watercolours and poster-colours. However, it was his military-trained engineer and builder father who fostered his creativity, taking him to galleries and museums in England during his early years and teaching him how to create and construct with his hands as well as not to be afraid to work hard manually.

After attending Manly High School in Sydney, Kitching went on to Sydney Teachers’ College and became a teacher of manual arts - metalwork, woodwork and engineering drawing. For a time, he taught and travelled throughout Western NSW but then returned to Sydney and decided to leave teaching to become a full-time artist. As he built himself as an artist, and started to move towards sculpture work, Kitching returned to part-time teaching at Cleveland Street Boys High to help with his income, renting an old stable at Coogee in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs which he set up as his studio. Later, after meeting Col Jordan and Ken Reinhard, he become a sculpture teacher at the City Art Institute in Sydney where Ken was director: “I never really went to art school, and when you have a bunch of energetic pupils, they start asking you questions, and I had a rule of thumb: ‘Ask me a question this week and I’ll find you an answer by next week’. And in the process, I actually educated myself”. *

Kitching married Antonia Hoddle, a fellow artist, in 1967 at St Peter’s Church, Watson’s Bay. Although he had lived in Australia longer than in England by then, he was “homesick here for god knows how long it was”. After winning two travelling scholarships, Kitching and Hoddle travelled to Italy in 1968 and then on to Kitching’s childhood home in England where they lived and worked for two years: “Quite truthfully, I really just wanted to go and visit my home”.* Returning to Sydney in 1970, they bought a house in Lovett Bay in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, where they lived for the remainder of Kitching’s life. During this time Kitching continued to produce work and teach at many art institutions. **

Kitching held his first solo exhibition in 1964 at Barry Stern Galleries in Sydney. In 1968, Kitching’s Mildura Prize for Sculpture winning piece, Phoenix II, was included in the seminal The Field exhibition at the National Gallery of Melbourne. Made from aluminium and transparent synthetic polymer resin, his sculpture introduced the use of contemporary materials and light to a wider audience: “Gradually over the last few years I’ve swung away from [more traditional materials] towards contemporary materials. They in themselves offer so much scope to your imagination. Perspex for instance, the tremendous variety of colouring that you can get, the tremendous variety of forms you can produce through moulding, heating and bending … About twelve months ago I had the idea of actually lighting a piece sculpture from the inside instead of relying as traditionally from lights falling upon a piece of sculpture.” *** From then, Kitching has shown his work in numerous solo and group exhibitions and represented Australia in Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Kitching won many awards and prizes including the Blake Prize in 1964 for The Last Supper - Premonition, a painting with assemblage elements composed from table legs, corrugated aluminium panels and parts of an electric generator.** He was the youngest artist to win the award at just 24 years old, and held this title for over 50 years.*** In 1967, as well as the Mildura Prize for sculpture, he won both the Alcorso-Sekers prize, a travelling scholarship for sculpture, and the Flotta Lauro Travelling Scholarship, which funded his travels to Europe. Kitching was a finalist in the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize in 2002, 2011 and 2017. He was also commissioned for a vast number of projects including sculptures at the Health Commission in Canberra, the Town Hall in Sydney the High Court in Sydney, the Harbord Diggers Club, OTC Sydney, Westmead Children’s Hospital, Sydney International Airport and the Sydney Olympic Park Peace Monument.**

Kitching was a painter from a young age. However, by the mid 1960s, he was experimenting with kinetic sculpture and is best known for his sculptures in stainless steel, aluminium and plexiglass, which often incorporate light. He used these contemporary materials to reflect the fusion of art and science which was so important to him manifesting the modern technological age through his art.

Kitching is typically irreverent in his response to criticism at the time. On his collaboration with industry and using technology to make his works, Kitching has said: “What technology did at that time was completely outrun the hand-made – there is almost nothing that a machine can’t do better than a human being – and it put a lot of people’s noses out of joint. And people used to say to me, ‘Oh, you don’t make your own work?’ and I used to say, ‘No, I don’t, but then Shakespeare didn’t make his own paper, he just put the words on it’.”*

As well as the many famous sculptures Kitching has constructed, he has similarly created many remarkable paintings in his recognizable textured, layered style with very thick impasto: “a sort of collage idea. Colour is always there”. ** Ultimately, Kitching is looking to create meaning from the world around us through his art: “What beauty is, is when you see the meaning in something. And what the hell does art do? That’s its business.” *

Kitching’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery, the National Library ACT and many other regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia and in the US, the UK, New Zealand, Switzerland, France, Fiji and Achille Lauro, Indian Ocean.****

* Interview with Mike Kitching, Deborah Edwards, senior curator of Australian art, Art Gallery of NSW, 11 September and 23 October 2014 ** Profile of Michael Digby Kitching, Pittwater Online News, Issue 274, 31 July to 6 August 2016 *** Mike Kitching, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels, p. 69 & 115 **** Mike Kitching Curriculum Vitae, Mike Kitching Seqvanae Studios

 

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