Nick Stathopoulos was the type of child who could always be found perched in front of the TV or underneath the kitchen table, a sketch book in hand, drawing away. Decades on and the passion still remains, though you’ll now find his works hanging in the Archibald and Moran rather than just on his mum’s fridge.

I won my first art competition when I was in kindergarten, Stathopoulos said. I remember the painting, it was for a Book Week competition. All the other kids were drawing flat representations of books. I painted my teacher taking a book off the shelf. I can still see the stunned expression on her face. As a teenager I won all sorts of things. I really wanted a colour TV and I entered all these colouring competitions that had them as prizes. Not only were we the first family on the block with a colour TV, but it wasn’t long before we had two.

As a totally self-taught artist who chose to study law rather than colour composition, Stathopoulos developed a level of independent creativity which led him into the realm of commercial art. Working in animation, film design, computer graphics and book cover design Stathopoulos would occasionally take a break to hold a solo show or put works together for the Mardi Gras group shows at the Kerrie Lowe gallery in Newtown.

Looking for a way to further extend his creative powers, Stathopoulos decided to enter the Archibald and Moran art prizes this year, and somewhat unsurprisingly made it as a finalist in both.

These are special projects for me. It gives me a chance to paint something unfettered by clients or outside influences. That can be very liberating. There are so many constraints with a commissioned portrait. There aren’t too many clients prepared to go with something that pushes the envelope of portraiture, which is what the trustees of the Archibald are always looking for -¦ the next new thing.

Stathopoulos’s cheeky repre-sentation of The Movie Show presenter, David Stratton asleep in a cinema undeniably had the elements the judges were looking for -“ celebrity, quirkiness and, above all, artistic talent.

Every time I watched The Movie Show I’d thought David Stratton would make a great subject. And he did, Stathopoulos said.

David was very gracious, even though I was depicting him in a potentially embarrassing scenario [asleep in a cinema]. To his credit he always asserted that I was the artist and he put his trust in me. That’s a big act of faith.

There’s a real cachet attached to the Archibald. It’s the major event in the Australian art calendar -¦ so just making it into the finalists garners a great deal of prestige.

Then there’s the exposure. Both the Archibald and Moran tour extensively which means so many more people are going to see your work than if you were exhibiting at a local gallery. Prospective galleries certainly pay attention.

But, there are no expectations when it comes to the Archibald. It’s such a crap-shoot and so bloody hard to get in. The judging is brutal. Winning would be great, but the aim is to get hung. It’s nice to be part of it.

Always looking towards the next big venture, Stathopoulos is moving his talents as a seer of men into a new realm as he works to bring the story of Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira to the big screen in a feature-length film, all while finishing off a series of commissions.

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