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Archibald finalists revealed: Barnesy wins Packing Room Prize

Written by
Ben Neutze

Jimmy Barnes says you might not think he looks like an oil painting, but Sydney artist Jamie Preisz will prove you wrong. Preisz's portrait of Barnes, called 'Jimmy (title fight)', has won the $1,500 Packing Room Prize – the first award given to an Archibald Prize finalist each year.

The prize is selected by the staff of the packing room and head packer Brett Cuthbertson, who this year takes over from long-standing packer Steve Peters.

Preisz's painting came to the gallery on the first day of entries, and Cuthbertson said it was the only contender from the very beginning, confirmed when a journalist asked which prominent Australian he'd like to see featured in the finalists.

"The first name that came to my mind – I said 'Barnesy'," Cuthbertson says. "I said he'd been done before, but I'd like to see it again. And young Jamie Preisz came in behind me with a picture of Barnesy as I was just thinking that."

The painting shows Barnes wrapping his hands in preparation for a boxing match. Barnes's father was a prize fighter, and Preisz wanted to capture Barnes's fighting spirit.

"In 2016 Jimmy spoke about another fight and that was a fight with depression and mental health," Preisz says. "And this painting actually became an outlet for me and my own grief because in December I lost my little sister to suicide. So Jimmy posed for this painting and I just poured everything I had into it."

Barnes was full of praise for the painting, which Preisz dedicated to his sister.

"Jamie is a brave, brave man," Barnes says. "To pick himself up from the tragedy that he's had and work and create and dedicate this to his sister is just beautiful. I'm really thrilled and honoured to be part of it."

The 58 finalists for the long-running and massively popular portrait prize were also revealed, featuring famous Australian faces from politics, art, music, film and theatre. There are five actors in this year's finalists: Alison Whyte, Guy Pearce, David Wenham, Nicholas Hope and Lotte St Clair.

After last year's male-heavy line-up, the Archibald surged a little closer to gender parity among its finalists – there are 27 women painters to 31 men – but women actually make up a slim majority of the sitters, with 31 women to 29 men. And while we noticed a clear trend of male sitters literally sitting on chairs in last year's exhibition, it seems to have reversed this year with seven women sitting on chairs.

In fact, there are just three men sitting on chairs in this year's exhibition, and one of them, artist Pete O'Doherty, is pictured next to his wife and artistic collaborator Susan O'Doherty (also on a chair).

There are 21 self portraits amongst the bunch, including works by Del Kathryn Barton, Vincent Namatjira and Robert Hannaford. And there are plenty of familiar names among the finalists – more than three-quarters of the painters have been finalists in previous years.

The winner of the $100,000 Archibald will be announced next Friday May 11, but the fun of the prize is in picking your own favourites. Head on over to the finalists gallery and bring out your inner art critic.

Jamie Preisz 'Jimmy (title fight)' © the artist
Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carter

The Archibald Prize exhibition is at the Art Gallery of NSW from May 12 to September 8. 

Want to know more about the man behind the Packing Room Prize? Meet Brett Cuthbertson.

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