Archibald time, and look who's bobbed up

A STENCIL artist has for the first time made it to the finals of Australia's premier art awards, the Archibald Prize.

A STENCIL artist has for the first time made it to the finals of Australia's premier art awards, the Archibald Prize.

Melbourne-based artist Luke Cornish, also called E.L.K, was yesterday announced as one of the 41 finalists in the $75,000 prize for his stencil portrait of the Melbourne Catholic priest Father Bob Maguire.

The portrait, unveiled alongside the other 40 finalists at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, was created using spray paint and stencils, and portrays the unsmiling "celebrity" priest in different shades of grey.

The self-taught Cornish, who was "overwhelmed' by yesterday's news, had wanted to paint Father Bob for some time.

"The opportunity didn't really present itself until I had a chance meeting with him at an exhibition opening," he said.

Street-based art has been submitted before, but none have made it through as a finalist.

Cornish though, is adamant he is not a "street artist".

"I do more work in galleries than I do in the street," he said.

He said he was drawn to Father Maguire because, as well as reminding him of his late grandfather, Cornish admires his character.

"He is such a generous person," he said.

"The fact that he's devoted his life to others played a big part in me choosing him.

"I worked mostly from photos after spending a bit of time with him, getting the right image to work from.

"Then it took about two weeks to cut the stencils out and a day to spray it up.

"He's a grumpy old man. And he knows it that's what everyone loves about him."

Father Maguire, who became a cult figure after repeated clashes with the church and being "forced" into retirement from his South Melbourne parish last month, is the first to agree. "I'm Scottish, we're dour," the 77-year-old said. "It's grim, but it's appealing to me."

The Archibald's main prize is announced on March 30, along with the winners of the Wynne and Sulman prizes, held in tandem.

But the first Archibald award of the season, the Packing Room Prize, was unveiled yesterday.

A Victorian artist, Raelene Sharp, won the prize with her portrait of the screen veteran John Wood. Sharp was "over the moon" at her win, having entered several times before, she said. Wood, star of the television series Rafferty's Rules and Blue Heelers, said he thought it was wonderful that a little-known artist's painting of a "has-been" had won.

Sharp said of Wood, her neighbour in the Yarra Valley, she tried to capture not a character he had played, but his own personality. Wood thought she had succeeded.

The packers' prize was chosen from 839 entries up on last year and is picked by gallery staff. Musicians figure large among the varied Archibald subjects mainly on big canvases and include Kimbra, Missy Higgins, ARIA heroes Boy & Bear and Dave Graney and Clare Moore.

War is another theme, with portraits of a soldier, a boy as a soldier and, from last year's Archibald winner, Ben Quilty, a painting inspired by his stint as a war artist in Afghanistan.

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