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301 Sydney primary school students paint Archibald short-listed artwork

Greta Stonehouse and Tamsin Rose, July 30, 2017 6:55PM AP

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Young artists with their portrait. Picture: Dan Himbrechts media_cameraYoung artists with their portrait. Picture: Dan Himbrechts


Reading level: red

A GROUP of 301 primary school students have achieved something most professional artists could only dream of — being chosen as a finalist for the prestigious* Archibald Prize.

The Sydney Grammar Edgecliff students, aged five to 12, created a portrait of their principal Dr John Vallance called Goodbye, Sir!

The portrait of Dr Vallance looks like a pixilated* photograph, but is actually made up of 11,000 one-centimetre painted wooden blocks assembled on a board, on top of a numbered grid.

The Archibald Prize is a hotly contested award for the best portrait, painted by anyone in Australasia.

Entires are judged by the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW, where the finalists are displayed.

“I have never seen or heard of an Archibald Prize finalist portrait that was created by such a large group of contributors or students,” said 2017 Archibald Prize curator* Anne Ryan.

“This is a very unique portrait.”

Goodbye, Sir! Picture: supplied media_cameraGoodbye, Sir! Picture: supplied

An earlier version of the intricate work was handed to Dr Vallance at his farewell* assembly.

When the school’s visual arts director Janna Tess did some research she was encouraged by discovering the Archibald had no limits on large collaborative works or ages.

Dr Vallance then sat for a new photograph and happily obliged* with requests about his pose, including one to “flap your hands like a duck” from five-year-old Thomas Mansour.

Using computer program Photoshop, the best image was converted into a grid and 20 colours were identified and numbered accordingly.

Art teacher Ms Tess likened the project to a giant jigsaw puzzle crossed with painting by numbers.

“There were some boys who were really devoted to this artwork and came in every lunchtime and just filled in all the gaps”, said school captain Matthew Scolyer.

Thomas, Matthew and Savvas with art teacher Janna Tess. Picture: Dan Himbrechts media_cameraThomas, Matthew and Savvas with art teacher Janna Tess. Picture: Dan Himbrechts

A critic of laptops in classrooms, Dr Vallance was amused his portrait resembled* a digital image.

“I thought it was terribly funny that the boys could get their revenge on what I’d said about technology by doing a pixilated portrait,” Dr Vallance said.

The teacher, who retired in April, said he was proud of the boys’ achievement and it proved children should never be patronised* in the classroom.

Goodbye, Sir! measures 1.2m by 1.1m and is now hanging in the Art Gallery of NSW.


The 2017 winner of the Archibald Prize was announced on Friday, July 28 with Sydney painter Mitch Cairns taking the top prize for his striking portrait of his partner Agatha Gothe-Snape.

Mitch Cairns Agatha Gothe-Snape. Picture: Mim Stirling media_cameraMitch Cairns Agatha Gothe-Snape. Picture: Mim Stirling

The Archibald was first awarded in 1921 and the competition has now expanded to include the Young Archie prizes for young artists, the Wynne Prize for Australian landscape painting and the Sulman Prize for subject, genre or mural painting in oil, acrylic, watercolour or mixed media.

The Packing Room Prize is voted on each year by gallery workers who unpack the portrait entires. This year it was won by a portrait of television personality Lisa Wilkinson by Peter Smeeth.

Lisa Wilkinson in front of her portrait by artist Smeeth which won the packers’ prize. Picture: Craig Wilson media_cameraLisa Wilkinson in front of her portrait by artist Smeeth which won the packers’ prize. Picture: Craig Wilson

Mitch Cairns’ winning painting will hang at Geelong Gallery from October 28 until December 10 as part of a regional tour.


pixilated: made from pixels
curator: person who puts everything together
farewell: goodbye
obliged: do something asked of you
resembled: looked like
patronised: spoken down to



Activity 1. 2017 Archibald Finalist

Read or listen to the article carefully then answer these questions.

• What is the Archibald Prize all about?

• How did these school students come to be finalists in the 2017 Archibald competition? What events led to this being possible?

• Who was the 2017 winner?

• What is the Packing Room prize? Who won this prize in 2017?

• Why did the Principal Dr Vallance think the boys could get their revenge with this piece of art?

• How do you think Dr Vallance would have felt when he found out the students were involved in this project for his farewell gift?

• What impression do you get about Dr Vallance’s character from the article? What makes you think this?

Extension: Problem solving

A staggering 301 students participated in this project and 11,000 cubes were used.
If all students painted and placed the same amount of cubes in the portrait, how many did they place each?
Were there any left over?
How many students will need to paint an extra cube?
How many will not paint an extra cube?

Imagine the students want to place a frame around the portrait.
They have selected a 10cm wide frame.
What will the inside measurement (closest to the portrait) of the frame need to be?
What will the outside measurement need to be?
It might help to draw a diagram.

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, The Arts — Visual Arts, Mathematics

Activity 2. Create a portrait

A portrait is an artistic representation of a person’s face and expression.

Find a photograph of a person you admire.
It could be someone famous or someone you know personally.
Use the photograph to help you design and create a portrait of this person.
You can use whatever suitable medium is available to you to create your portrait.
Different mediums include painting, drawing, mosaic style (with small coloured square paper) or modelling clay for a sculpture.

Extension: Biography

Write a short biography of the person you have selected for the portrait.
Ensure you include the traits that you admire about this person.
Write or print this on a small piece of card then attach this to your portrait as a plaque.

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, The Arts — Visual Arts


(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, Punctuation)

Power openers

Just like artists need to capture the eye of their audience, a writer must capture the attention of the reader.
For this activity use a power opener to convince the reader to come and view your piece of art that has been selected as a finalist for this year’s Archibald Prize.

How could you word a slogan or a sentence to make someone want to come and see your work?

Example: Never has there been such an amazing piece of artwork!

Some openers you might want to use include:

Never, always, besides, even though, in addition, I actually, having decided, as time went by, an important thing.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Big Write, VCOP







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