A portrait of New Zealand-born comedian Cal Wilson by Cairns-based artist Andrea Huelin has won this year’s Packing Room Prize. Huelin’s painting is one of 57 finalists in 2023 for Australia’s favourite art award, the Archibald Prize.
Now in its 32nd year, the Packing Room Prize is a $3000 cash prize awarded to the best entry in the Archibald Prize as judged by the Art Gallery staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries.
Former head packer Brett Cuthbertson retired in 2022, passing the baton to the ‘Packing Room pickers’ – three members of the Packing Room team, Timothy Dale, Monica Rudhar and Alexis Wildman, who together selected Huelin’s winning artwork for the Packing Room Prize 2023.
Unlike Cuthbertson, who held a 52 per cent vote, Dale, Rudhar and Wildman each have an equal vote. They worked together this year to build a shortlist before selecting their very first Packing Room Prize winner.
Andrea’s work jumped out at us as soon as it arrived. The bright colours really popped, and we immediately recognised Cal as a familiar face,” said Wildman. “Cal’s been such a mainstay on Australian television for two decades.”
“We love the interesting pose and unique headwear and, in the tradition of the Packing Room Prize, Andrea’s painting looks like Cal! This is a great, joyful portrait of someone who has brought so much laughter to Australia.”
Clown jewels is the first entry into the Archibald Prize for the Perth-born artist. Originally a journalist and broadcaster, Huelin followed her love of art and embarked on a career change into arts administration and marketing in Queensland before deciding to take up the paintbrush herself. She is best known for her colourful paintings of objects and scenes from everyday life.
Huelin saw Wilson’s Instagram posts during the Melbourne COVID lockdowns where the comedian would often share light-hearted videos modelling elaborate headpieces she made at home from plastic toys and shiny ornaments using her hot glue gun.
“Being a finalist is everything I could have hoped for. Winning the Packing Room Prize is simply gobsmacking,” said Huelin. “I was inspired to paint Cal because her Instagram posts modelling her brilliant homemade headpieces on her makeshift stage made me laugh out loud.”
“Her poses reminded me of my sister and me making ourselves laugh by pulling funny faces in the mirror as kids and I could tell we share a similar sense of humour. I posted a congratulatory comment and Cal wrote back and admired my paintings, so I asked if she’d sit for a portrait.”
“Cal brought her creativity and imagination to the sitting, as well as a suitcase full of headpieces and outfits. Because I’m a still life painter, I thought the headpieces were a great way for me to incorporate a still life element into the portrait.”
“The formal portrait mocks the 19th-century style in which women were once painted, while capturing her cheeky expression and sparkly headpiece, which is actually just arts and crafts,” said Huelin.
Melbourne-based Wilson has been a perennial figure on the Australian comedy circuit since her move across the Tasman in 2003. As well as being a crowd favourite at the country’s leading comedy festivals, Wilson is an author and is known for her appearances on TV programs including Spicks and Specks, Have You Been Paying Attention? and as the new co-host of The Great Australian Bake Off.
“I have not stopped beaming since I heard the news. I just love Andrea’s work, and I loved sitting for her. I started making extravagant glue gun headdresses over lockdown, and I’m thrilled that something so frivolous has been immortalised with such grandeur and skill. Who says social media is all bad?” said Wilson.
This year, the Art Gallery received 2348 entries across the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, which is the second highest number of entries received in the history of the prizes, following the record year in 2020.
The Art Gallery also received the highest ever total number of entries by Aboriginal artists across the three prizes. The Archibald Prize received 949 entries, the Wynne Prize received 726 entries, and the Sulman Prize received 673 entries.
In total, 143 works have been selected as finalists across the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes: 57 finalists in the Archibald, 41 in the Wynne and 45 in the Sulman. 2023 marks the first time there are more finalist works by women than men in the Archibald Prize.
It is also another record-breaking year for the increasingly popular Young Archie competition, with more than 3400 entries received from budding young artists aged five to 18, from across the country.
This is the highest number of entries in the 11-year history of the competition. 70 finalists from across the four age categories have been selected to be exhibited at the Art Gallery and displayed online.
Finalists in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2023 will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW from Saturday 6 May to Sunday 3 September 2023.
Following the Art Gallery exhibition, the Archibald Prize 2023 will tour to six venues in Victoria and regional New South Wales, offering audiences outside Sydney the opportunity to see the finalist portraits.
From September, the Wynne Prize 2023 will tour to four venues in regional New South Wales. This marks the first time the Wynne Prize, Australia’s oldest art award, will be seen outside Sydney in its 125-year history.
To explore the full list of finalists, find out more about this year’s exhibition and to purchase tickets, visit: www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au for details.
Image: Packing Room Prize 2023 winner, Andrea Huelin Clown jewels © the artist – photo by Jenni Carter | © AGNSW