WORKING CLASS ART: A portrait of Jimmy Barnes has won the Archibald Packing Room Prize

Art Gallery of NSWJimmy (title fight) by Jamie Preisz

It’s a big year for singer Jimmy Barnes, artist Jamie Preisz, and the new head of the Art Gallery of NSW packing room, Brett Cuthbertson. And now the trio are on a winning ticket together after Preisz’s portrait of the working class man took out the Archibald Packing Room Prize today.

Barnes is currently busy on the writer’s festival circuit in the wake of his second memoir, Working Class Man, while today’s announcement is a first for both the artist and packer.

Preisz has made the cut as a finalist for the first time in 2018 – he’s one of 22 first timers among the 58 paintings chosen – and scored $1500 for his packing room win.

Cuthbertson took on the solemn duty of picking his favourite portrait from his predecessor, Steve Peters, who ruled the roost from 1991 until his retirement last year. While the new head packer’s been at the gallery for more than three decades, he admits he’s not that into art.

The work, Jimmy (title fight), caught Cuthbertson on the first day as a staggering 794 Archibald Prize entries began rolling into the gallery as submissions for the Archibald. It was a case of his wish coming true.

“When the work arrived, I’d just been asked by a journalist who I’d like to see painted this year. Fair dinkum, I said Barnesy would be great. I turned around after the interview, and there was a young artist turning his work around so we could see it,” he said.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was of Barnsey. The portrait stuck in my head for the week we were receiving entries. By the final day of submissions, it was still the only contender for me.”

Preisz sought out Barnes as his subject after seeing him talk in an interview about dealing with mental health issues.

“Jimmy’s openness and honesty about his own struggles was the inspiration for this piece,” he said.

“I want to spark some conversation about mental health and addiction in this country.”

Barnes reckons the painting captures the battles he’s faced in his life.

“I was really pleased with the concept of painting me with my hands strapped like a boxer – I remember my father strapping his hands like this for a fight so it was something that appealed to me,” Barnes said.

Now it’s back to work for the packing room team – they have just over a week to hang the works in the Archibald, Wynne (landscape) and Sulman (subject, genre or mural painting) Prizes before the winners are announced next Friday, May 11.

The exhibitions run together from May 12 to September 9.

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