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Packing Room Prize 2023 winner Andrea Huelin 'Clown jewels', featured with prize judges
Photograph: AGNSW/Diana Panuccio | Packing Room Prize 2023 winner Andrea Huelin 'Clown jewels', featured with prize judges

A colourful portrait of comedian Cal Wilson wins the Archibald’s Packing Room Prize

The all new ‘Packing Room pickers’ judges selected the painting by a first-time Archie entrant

Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Alannah Le Cross

Australia’s most popular art award will soon be showing its many faces to the public when the Archibald Prize for portraiture opens at the Art Gallery of NSW from May 6, 2023. But in the meantime, the gallery has unveiled the winner of the always highly anticipated Packing Room Prize.

Drum roll, please – a portrait of New Zealand-born comedian Cal Wilson by Cairns-based artist Andrea Huelin has won this year’s Packing Room Prize. Now in its 32nd year, the Packing Room Prize is a $3,000 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. 

‘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.

In the painting, Wilson is modelling one of the elaborate homemade headpieces she crafted during Melbourne’s Covid lockdown from plastic toys and shiny ornaments using her hot glue gun. The comedian infamously modelled the headpieces on Instagram, and that’s where she and Huelin first connected and fell head over heels for each other’s creative output.

 Artist Andrea Huelin and sitter Cal Wilson with 'Clown jewels'Photograph: Victoria Lonergan | Artist Andrea Huelin and sitter Cal Wilson with 'Clown jewels'

“I first had the idea of wanting to capture or to ask her for a portrait when I saw her posts on Instagram, wearing these ridiculous but wonderful pieces that she made during lockdown,” Huelin told Time Out.  “And when I saw the way that she was modelling, and the look on her face of real pride and happiness in her own work...But obviously, you know, mocking herself and, and the whole concept of it. It just made me laugh out loud.”

“Sitting for Andrea was amazing,” Wilson told us. “It really felt like a scene that you'd see in a film of a 19th century painter kind of thing. You know, I'm not shy about getting attention, but this was attention in a different way, being seen in a different way, and it was just really fun to kind of go to Andrea, ‘I've got this, and I've got this’ and Andrea went ‘I want that, and I want that’. It felt like such a happy, exciting process.” 

The comedian added ruefully: “I like the thought that maybe someone in years to come will find that on the wall of a town hall somewhere and be like, ‘I don't know what's going on…I guess in 2023, everyone was wearing headdresses like that!’”

This marks a new era for the Packing Room Prize – and not just for the inclusion of maximalist headgear. Head packer Brett Cuthbertson retired in 2022 after selecting his final Packing Room pick (that was Claus Stangl for his 3D-style portrait of Taika Waititi). Cuthbertson held a generous 52 per cent vote, essentially giving him the final say on the winner. He has passed the baton to the new ‘Packing Room pickers’ – three members of the Packing Room team, Timothy Dale, Monica Rudhar and Alexis Wildman. Dale, Rudhar and Wildman each have an equal vote, and together they selected Huelin’s winning artwork for the Packing Room Prize 2023 out of 57 finalists. 

“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.”

Next up, the winner of the prestigious (and often controversial) Archibald Prize will be announced on Friday, May 5. 

Finalists in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2023 will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW from Saturday, May 6 to Sunday, September 3 2023. To explore the full list of finalists, find out more about this year’s exhibition and to purchase tickets, visit the Art Gallery website.

Did you know? Last year’s Archibald winner Blak Douglas has a solo exhibition in Sydney right now

Want more? Here is your guide to where to see all the best art to see in Sydney this month.

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