Larger-than-life artists and portraits arrive in Melbourne for the 2022 Archibald Prize

'Moby Dickens' by Blak Douglas, the Archibald Prize-winning portrait of Karla Dickens wearing a shirt with an Aboriginal dot-painting pattern and looking grim under a stormy grey sky

Nicola Dowse

Posted August 17, 2022

Narre Warren’s Bunjil Place contemporary art gallery is expecting huge crowds as Australia’s most popular art prize comes to Victoria. 

There are few art prizes in Australia more famous than the Archibald Prize. 

Since its launch in 1921, the Australian portraiture prize has showcased some of the nation’s best artists and most notable characters, ranging from actors and athletes, to politicians and performers. 

Georgia Cribb, Gallery Director for Bunjil Place in Narre Warren attributes the Archibald’s enduring public popularity to its focus on portraiture. 

“It really does connect with people in a way that no other art prize does,” Cribb says. “The fact that it is portraiture… I think it is a medium that all people can connect with.”

From September 3 to October 16, Bunjil Place has the honour of being the only Victorian venue to host the 2022 Archibald Prize, bringing all 52 finalists (including the 2022 Archibald Prize winner) to Melbourne’s multi-art form precinct.

“It's been an incredible experience working on this particular project, and we cannot wait for opening day.”

What makes an Archibald Prize winner? 

When it comes to qualifying for the Archibald Prize, there are a few rules artists need to follow.  

The main being that the work is both a painting and a portrait. Often the subject of the portrait is someone of note, with the administering Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) stating that the work is: “preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia.” 

The portrait must also be painted from life – that is, the subject of the portrait must sit for the artwork – you can’t paint from a photograph (which resulted in artist John Bloomfield being disqualified for his 1975 entry). Any medium is acceptable, which has resulted in a stylistically diverse selection of winners and finalists (including Del Kathryn Barton, Julia Ciccarone, Euan Macleod and Guan Wei – all of whom also have works within the RACV Art Collection). 

There are also rules around the size of the entry, with the painting (or paintings – multi-panel works are acceptable) not exceeding 90,000 square centimetres.  

That allows for some massive paintings to enter the Archibald, including this year’s winner Moby Dickens by the Sydney-based Dhungutti artist, Blak Douglas.  

Douglas’s portrait of fellow artist, friend and Wiradjuri woman, Karla Dickens, standing amidst the destruction of the 2022 Lismore floods is monumental. At three metres tall and two metres wide, the painting is physically impressive. But the work is also significant for being the first portrait of an Aboriginal woman to win the Archibald. 

Douglas himself is only the second Aboriginal artist to win the prize (the first being Vincent Namatjira in 2020). 

“In previous years, it's been a long process for the judges to come to a unanimous view. This year apparently, it's been the quickest judging process in terms of Blak Douglas’s work,” Cribb says.  

“It’s really a powerful and beautiful work.”  


Paul Newton, 'Portrait of Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness' [cropped], oil on linen.
Blak Douglas, 'Moby Dickens' [cropped], synthetic polymer paint on linen. Archibald Prize winner 2022.
Vincent Namatjira, 'Self-portrait with dingo' [cropped], acrylic on linen.
Yvette Coppersmith, 'Ella Simons seated' [cropped], oil on jute.
Laura Jones, 'Brooke and Jimmy' [cropped], oil and acrylic on linen.

Chosen by the packers and the people

The Archibald is also unique for awarding the Packing Room Prize in addition to the main winner.  

This prize is chosen by the exhibition packers – the gallery staff who physically receive, unpack and then hang the artworks in the gallery. 

“I think people actually connect sometimes more with the Packing Prize winner, just in the fact that it’s somebody who isn’t the ‘art expert’,” says Cribb. “It'll be, I'm sure, a painting that will be well loved visitors to the show.” 

The winner of this year’s Packing Room Prize is Claus Stangl, who won with his 3D glasses-inspired portrait of director, writer, and actor, Taika Waititi. 

“It’s an incredible work and obviously [Waititi] is a character that everybody loves.” 

But the packers aren’t the only ones who get to pick a prize winner. AGNSW runs a People’s Choice award where guests of the exhibition can vote for their favourite.

Guests to AGNSW chose Jeremy Elden’s portrait of actor Samuel Johnson for that honour, but Victorian visitors to the Bunjil Place Archibald exhibition will have their own chance to pick a winner.  

“We absolutely look forward to seeing what resonates with our visitors and whether it might be a different work within the 52 finalists,” says Cribb.


Claus Stangl, 'Taika Waititi' [extended], acrylic on canvas. Winner of the Packing Room Prize 2022.
Jeremy Eden, 'Samuel Johnson OAM' [cropped], oil on canvas.
Kim Leutwyler, 'Courtney and Shane' [cropped], oil on canvas.
Felix von Dallwitz, 'Dylan Alcott, AOTY' [cropped], oil on linen.
Jasper Knight, 'Abdul Abdullah' [cropped], enamel, gloss acrylic, pencil and gesso on plywood.

Archibald entries not to miss

If you’re not sure where to start, Cribbs has some top picks of Archibald finalists:

Natasha Bieniek 
Patricia Piccinini

Piccinini, the subject of Bieniek’s painting, is an acclaimed artist in her own right through her hyper-realistic sculptures of human-creature hybrids. But while Piccinini’s work’s are regularly life-size, Bieniek’s portrait of her is tiny. 

“Natasha Bieniek’s portrait of Patricia Piccinini I think is an interesting counterpoint to the scale of [Blak] Douglas’s monumental painting. Her’s is only 18 centimetres across, so it’s much more of a scale that’s really intimate and kind of working to a smartphone kind of format.”

Richard Lewer 
Liz Laverty

Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Laverty and her late husband Colin Laverty have amassed one of the most significant contemporary art collections in Australia, works from which are regularly leased to galleries for public exhibitions.

“Richard Lewer is one of my personal favourite artists, he's always got just such a funny and clever take on the universe. His painting of Liz Laverty – he’s painted her year on year and has said that he will continue to paint her until he wins.”

Kim Leutwyler 
Courtney and Shane

In this portrait, artist Leutwyler has painted both sides of renowned Australian drag artist Shane Janek, best known as Courtney Act, who will also be coming to Bunjil Place as part of Melbourne Writers Festival. 

“There’ll be an evening of talks and conversation between Kim and Courtney about that experience of being the artist and sitter.”

Catherine McGuiness 
Rosary with the seagull

“Catherine is part of Studio Seven, which is an assisted studio for artists who have a disability,” Cribb says. The portrait is of fellow artist Rosie Deacon, who is known for using a lot of colours in her work. 

“Catherine's work is just so incredibly vibrant and joyful, it’s impossible not to imagine what an exuberant personality that Rosie Deacon has.”

Jonathan Dalton 
Day 77

Referring to day 77 of lockdown, which happened to also be the artist’s birthday. The work, however, was painted for Dalton’s wife’s birthday, which fell on the opening date for the 2022 Archibald Prize in Sydney.

Cribb says the work touched on both the beautiful moments of lockdown which saw life slow down and families perhaps spend more time together, but also the “trauma that comes with that confinement.”

“It's a work that I think will stand the test of time. It's really a beautiful insight into that experience.”


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