Archibald Prize head packer gets own portrait



July 08, 2017 09:21:41

It is the last day of entries for Australia’s most prestigious portrait prize, The Archibald, and artists nervously rush in, carefully handing over their portraits in exchange for bright orange receipts.

The packing room floor of the Art Gallery of New South Wales is covered in bubble wrap and cardboard, as trolleys whiz past loaded with stacks of paintings.

The packers shout out instructions, telling each artist to place their portraits against the wall.

Some ignore them, choosing instead to display their work proudly in the middle of the room, inadvertently creating trip hazards for unsuspecting workers.

At the helm of the chaos is Steve Peters, 60, who has been the head packer at the gallery for 34 years.

This year is his last on the job.

As the head packer, Mr Peters directs pieces around the room and into the gallery, while occasionally offering his opinion on the subject matter.

“This one is a a little too abstracty for me,” he says.

“And this one is bad.”

But one of the pieces already displayed gets singled out amid the rush.

“Look at this old bugger,” Mr Peters exclaims, pointing to a portrait of himself: a mostly black and white piece by artist Tian Li Zu titled This Is It.

“I had some artists ring and ask me when they found out I was retiring, would I mind sitting for them?

“I said: ‘are you sure you want to paint me? If I was an artist I wouldn’t want to paint me!'”

“But I was thrilled to bits.”

Mr Peters is about to hand over the baton to Brett Cuthbertson; the pair have been working together since Mr Cuthbertson joined the gallery in the 1980s.

“I’ve been Dean Martin to his Frank Sinatra for many years now! But Frank’s left the building, and Dean’s taken over the rat pack,” Mr Cuthbertson says.

Each year, the packers choose who will take out the $1,500 Packing Room prize.

The head packer gets 51 per cent of the vote, but Mr Peters says next year Mr Cuthbertson will get 52 per cent.

“Because of inflation,” he explains.

Frank Sinatra, or Steve Peters, offers up some parting words of wisdom to his successor.

“You gotta pick a good one, so that will knock about 95 per cent of them,” he says.

He says the judging process for the Packing Room prize will take “no more than two minutes” tomorrow morning.

Given its subject matter, he is asked if his portrait is a shoe-in for the prize.

“Well I think it’s very good, but none of the boys seem particular on them for the moment,” he says.

“But we’ll see.”







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