VCA student reaches the Archibald Prize finals

Julius Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald Prize finalists in recent years. If he wins, he’ll be the youngest ever artist to take the prize.

By Sarah Hall

When third-year Victorian College of the Arts student Julius Killerby asked the former Essendon Football Club Chairman Paul Little to sit for a portrait, he did not expect to become a finalist in Australia’s most popular portraiture competition, the Archibald Prize. But, as was announced today, that’s exactly what’s happened.

“I sort of used the Archibald as an excuse to approach Little so I could paint his portrait,” said Killerby, who is currently working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) at the VCA. “I’m pretty surprised to find out it has made it into the finals – even though, of course, I was secretly hoping it would get picked.”

Killerby’s work will be judged alongside 43 finalists, including VCA Art alumnae Prudence Flint, Yvette Coppersmith, Sophia Hewson and Kate Beynon, former VCA Art staff Jon Campbell and current staff member Richard Lewer. At 22, Killerby is one of the youngest Archibald finalists in recent years. Should he win, he will be the youngest ever artist to take the prize (as it stands Nora Heysen is the youngest ever winner– who was 27 when she took the prize in 1938). The winner, to be announced on 28 July, will receive $100,000 and significant media recognition.

Killerby’s oil painting casts Little in shadows against a black background – indicative, possibly, of the dark times Little led the Essendon Football Club through in recent years.

Julius Killerby, Paul Little (2017). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Killerby described making it to the finals of the competition as a validating experience, and said his art was in tune with the style of the Archibald. “I don’t think I was compromising my work at all by entering it for consideration.”

Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw said she was delighted by Killerby’s inclusion in the prestigious competition.

“Julius has been diligently working on this portrait of Paul Little for a number of weeks,” she said. “He is such a generous and hardworking student, and has committed to making some serious gains in his work this year.”

Killerby’s art practice involves spending six to eight hours in the studio every day. “You can’t be an artist casually,” he told Precinct, likening the creation of a painting to a “slow battle”.

Already an admirer of the work Little has done as a philanthropist and businessman, Killerby said it was important for him to get to know him on a more personal level before painting his portrait. They met in May this year and became acquainted before Killerby spent approximately 100 hours working on the oil painting in his studio at the VCA.

“I was just exceedingly happy to paint Little’s portrait regardless of the prize itself and really enjoyed the process,” he told Precinct.

“Becoming a finalist was just the cherry on the cake.”


Banner image: Olga Filonenko/ Flickr

The Archibald Prize is held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales You can see the work of the 2017 finalists on the Gallery of New South Wales’ website.