An intimate painting of TV host Lisa Wilkinson just won the Archibald’s packing room prize

Peter Smeeth’s portrait of Lisa Wilkinson. Photo: Felicity Jenkins, AGNSW

The finalists in the 2017 Archibald Prize were announced today at the Art Gallery of NSW today.

As part of that ritual, the first award of the annual portrait prize was announced, with Peter Smeeth’s portrait of television presenter and journalist Lisa Wilkinson taking out the Packing Room Prize, which is chosen by the blokes in charge of unpacking and sorting through the hundreds of entries sent in, and ultimately hanging them.

Smeeth scores $1,500 Packing Room Prize and it’s the end of an era for the judging with Steve Peters, the head of the packing room, retiring after 34 years in the job. The head packer gets final say on who gets the nod.

Peters also features in this year’s exhibition thanks to a portrait by artist Lucy Culliton.

Griffith-born Smeeth previously painted Wilkinson’s husband, author and former rugby player Peter FitzSimons, which featured in the 2010 Archibald Prize. It’s the fourth time the artist has made the cut and in 2011, he won the Sulman Prize, which is part of the Archibald and goes to the subject painting, genre painting or mural project.

The humble artist said “winning of this award is 99% due to Lisa, and 1% to the likeness”.

There are 43 finalists in this year’s Archibald Prize, and one will be especially familiar to viewers of the ABC TV series Anh’s Brush with Fame – a portrait of Aboriginal actor Jack Charles Anh Do painted during the show.

The portrait’s media is described as “oil on linen with unicorn hologram, dead insects found in garden and other mixed media” in the exhibition notes.

Speaking about his work, Do said “Jack’s face is full of character. I wanted the painting to capture his gravitas but also the loneliness that has been his constant companion. I mixed wet and semi-dried paint to create a texture that would evoke mountains and waterfalls, tree bark, fallen leaves, clouds and rain to encapsulate the beauty of the Australian landscape inside this beautiful man’s face.”

While the finalists include the usual smattering of artists painting themselves, and the occasional celebrity, two notable Australian businessmen also feature.

Paul Little who recently retired chairman of the Essendon Football Club, has been captured by Melbourne artist and Bombers supporter Julius Killerby.

Paul Little by Julius Killerby Photo: Mim Stirling, AGNSW

“He seemed to me to possess an unaffected, sincere disposition; the kind of man who would never smile for its own sake,” Killerby says of the sittings.

Former NAB chairman and current Woodside Petroleum chairman and University of WA chancellor Michael Chaney also features in a work by Robert Hannaford. The portrait was commissioned by Woodside Petroleum.

Philanthropist and Australia Council chair Rupert Myer, grandson of Sidney Myer, founder of the retailer bearing the family name, is also there thanks to a portrait by one of the Archibald’s most successful entrants, Paul Newton, making the finalists for the 12th time.

Rupert Myer AO by Paul Newton. Photo: Jenni Carter, AGNSW

One of the most interesting works is a collaborative portrait is Dr John Vallance, who retired in April after nearly 18 years as headmaster of Sydney Grammar.

The portrait, consisting of 11,000 blocks, was painted by 301 boys, aged five to 12. Art teacher Janna Adams Tess said boys in the Art Club decided to make the work after Dr Vallance was presented with a portrait at a farewell assembly, believing “they could do better”.

“Their intention was to reverse technology – to make a painting that looked like a pixelated image on a computer screen,” Tess explained.

“They started with a photograph and sketches, then drew an 11,000 square grid on a wooden board, plotted the 20 colours, sanded and painted the blocks and glued them on. Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 worked mainly on the simple blue background, Year 3 and 4 did the suit and tie, while Year 5 and 6 were responsible for the intricate work on the face.

“Although the process was simple in theory, it wasn’t easy fitting the last blocks in.”

The winner of the $100,000 Archibald prize will be announced next Friday, 28 July, at noon.

Goodbye, Sir! Dr John Vallance by boys of Sydney Grammar Edgecliff Prep. Photo: Mim Stirling, AGNSW