We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.

Boys of Sydney Grammar Edgecliff Preparatory School Goodbye, Sir!

acrylic on wood

124 cm x 112 cm

The subject of this portrait is Dr John Vallance, who retired in April after nearly 18 years as headmaster of Sydney Grammar’s three campuses. Known for his sense of humour, commitment to a liberal arts education, and open-door policy, he was popular with the students. The portrait, consisting of 11,000 blocks, was painted by 301 boys, aged five to 12.

‘This is actually a second portrait of Dr Vallance. The boys presented the first one at Dr Vallance’s farewell assembly – and then some of the Art Club boys thought they could do better,’ says Janna Adams Tess, the boys’ art teacher.

‘Their intention was to reverse technology – to make a painting that looked like a pixelated image on a computer screen. They started with a photograph and sketches, then drew an 11,000 square grid on a wooden board, plotted the 20 colours, sanded and painted the blocks and glued them on. Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 worked mainly on the simple blue background, Year 3 and 4 did the suit and tie, while Year 5 and 6 were responsible for the intricate work on the face. Although the process was simple in theory, it wasn’t easy fitting the last blocks in!’

Listen to label text

Watch Auslan video