24 March 2023

Builder bags Bald Archy win with tribute to Batey

| Chris Roe
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Bald Archy

Brisbane builder Marty Steel (centre) won the 2023 Bald Archy with a portrait of its late founder Peter Batey. Photo: Luke Grealy.

Australia’s most irreverent art prize, the Bald Archy, is back after a three-year hiatus and fittingly, a portrait of its founder, who passed away in 2019, has taken out the $10,000 prize.

Brisbane builder and part-time artist Marty Steel said he was delighted to have been able to honour the late Peter Batey’s legacy with his portrait that depicts him being carried aloft through the clouds on the back of his beloved cockatoo, Maude.

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“The last time I entered it I came second and that was when Peter was still alive, and then when he passed I thought it would be all over,” he explained.

“So when I heard it was coming back it was a no-brainer for me. He was a lovely man and it was nice to do a painting of him.”

Peter Batey flying on Maude

Bald Archy founder Peter Batey and Maude captured by artist Marty Steel. Photo: Supplied.

The annual prize is now overseen by Wagga’s Museum of the Riverina and manager Luke Grealy said it was lovely to see Mr Batey feature so prominently.

“I’m absolutely delighted to continue Peters’s amazing legacy and also, in these sometimes tense and serious times, being able to give people the chance to have a laugh,” he said.

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“I love that the winning artist is also a builder because that sort of touches on Batey’s aim to get the arts to reach out to as broad a possible community as possible.

“He’s not from the arts elite. He’s actually a knockabout Aussie builder, who is also a good painter.”

Bald Archy entries

MoR manager Luke Grealy at the announcement in Sydney. Photo: Supplied.

In keeping with the satirical spirit of the prize, it is judged each year by Professor Maude Cockatoo and Luke said the bird was deeply moved by the portrait.

“Marty said that he had wondered if it was a risk doing Batey and Maude because he thought many of the other artists might do it. But it turns out he was the only one, so it was a bit of a masterstroke,” he said.

“When Maude saw the painting, we knew it was a winner because she actually shed a tear and we’ve never seen Maude cry.

“Although I’m sure he was playing to Maude’s ego a bit too and that certainly didn’t do him any harm!”

Marty agreed that featuring the judge in a sky of her favourite blue may have been strategic.

“Without a doubt, I put a lot of work into her, you’ve gotta play to your crowd haven’t you?” he laughed.

Bald Archy entry

The Bald Archy traditionally pokes fun at public figures. Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe, artist Judy Nadin. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Batey started the Bald Archy prize in 1994 to celebrate the lighter side of art and to push back against the elite and in particular the award’s prestigious cousin, the Archibald Prize.

Marty said he was pleased to see the prize return.

“It’s just really nice to have an award like this because something like the Archibald is very serious,” he explained.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but it’s sometimes a bit of a closed shop, so this is lovely because everyone can put whatever they like in it, and they can be humorous while they’re doing it.”

The Bald Archy exhibition is on display at Ibis Sydney Barangaroo until 14 April before heading on tour through NSW and Victorian regional locations before arriving home in Wagga at the end of the year.

Find out where the Bald Archy is touring here.

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