Its with great sadness we inform the West Pittwater Community of Mike’s death please find Tributes by Robyn Berkeley long time resident of Scotland Island
and Gavin Fry long time resident of Elvina`Bay.
Mike Kitching 1940 – 2019
A life lived abundantly, creatively, lovingly. An acclaimed artist and sculptor. A true friend. Funny, very cleaver, great mind, mischievous, honourable
and a great story teller.
Condolences to his wonderful wife Antonia and daughters, Fiamma and Amina. You will be missed.
Of all the art forms, sculpture is perhaps the most powerful in its capacity to move and shape human consciousness. While painting and the various two-dimensional
forms can enliven and expand our world, sculpture, especially in the pub domain, can enter and change our world whether we choose it or not. Mike Kitching
was a master sculptor who produced a series of works that have challenged, excited, enlightened and amused Australians for more than fifty years. Born
in the Northern English port city of Hull at the outbreak of World War Two, Michael Digby Kitching was one of the millions of migrants who would change
Australia forever in the post war years. The son of a British army engineer and builder, Mike learned early the essence of structures and materials
and, when a career choice loomed, he took to the teaching of manual arts – woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing. While he experimented with painting
and drawing, sculpture quickly became his forté and the fundamentals of his teaching career became central to his work. In the 1960s sculpture was
evolving from the traditional forms of carving and modelling that had been practised for millennia to embrace a new constructivist aesthetic, a direct
outcome of cubism and the purist works of the Bauhaus in the interwar period. Sculptors like David Smith in America and Anthony Caro in England were
leading a new movement to which the young Mike Kitching was strongly drawn. Steel sheet, rod, bar and plate was welded using industrial techniques
and finished with the new materials available from the automotive and construction industries. Plastics were introduced, with acrylic and resins, reinforced
with glass fibre, able to add translucency and colour as a contrast to the density and mass of steel and aluminium. Mike Kitching quickly came to understand
the new materials in a way few others in Australia were doing and at just 24 years of age he became the youngest artist to win the prestigious Blake
Prize for religious art in 1964. The expression ‘meteoric rise’ can be overdone, but it is the essential description of Mike Kitching’s career in the
second half of the 1960s. In just three years he followed up the Blake win with the Young Contemporaries Prize, Muswellbrook Art Prize, Berrima Prize
and both the Flotta Lauro and Alcorso-Sekers Travelling Scholarships. In 1967 he was to win the important Mildura Sculpture Prize and his winning work,
Phoenix II, was selected for the groundbreaking exhibition The Field at the National Gallery of Victoria. The impact of The Fieldon
Australian art was so profound that the Gallery restaged the exhibition on the 50thanniversary of its original presentation. It was a reminder,
if one were needed, of Kitching’s pre-eminent place in Australian sculpture in the second half of the 20thCentury. Over the ensuing decades
he built upon that early success, producing a wide range of public and private commissions, most notably in Sydney and Canberra. Stainless steel became
his signature material and he was able to bring its special qualities of reflective brilliance and high tensile strength to bear on many outstanding
designs. Of all his work in the public domain, perhaps the most striking and influential is his 1978 fabricated stainless steel work Seqvanaein
the forecourt of the ACT Health building in Canberra. A large and rambling collection of forms contains symbols of health and medicine, with its name
and symbolism reaching back to classical times. Colour and letterforms contrast the gleam and sweep of the stainless steel in a piece that boldly proclaims
its presence to all who walk around it. While many public commissions involve traditional forms and symbols, as in the various coats of arms he has
produced for public buildings, he was also able to bring lightness and humour to works for less formal environments. Fibreglass gulls and cockatoos
balance on stainless steel arbours and his sophisticated yet playful use of plastics came through in layered boxes and containers for domestic interiors.
Perhaps as a contrast to the industrial nature of much of his work, Mike made his home in the earthy offshore surrounds of Pittwater where, with his
artist wife Antonia Hoddle and daughters Fiamma and Amina, he created the artist’s life in a bushland haven on Sydney’s doorstep. A big man with a
powerful physical presence, Mike Kitching was never afraid of scale and drama in his work, as witness his soaring suspended works in the departure
hall of Sydney’s international airport terminal. The idea of flight is expressed in forms both powerful and airy, a fitting farewell to those leaving
a city Mike Kitching made his own.
Gavin Fry BA[Hons] MA MPhil