A portrait of Australian actor and cancer charity campaigner Samuel Johnson by Jeremy Eden has won the 2022 Archibald prize people’s choice award.
Eden, a Sydney-based artist, first met Johnson over video in 2021 while the actor was recovering from a near-fatal car accident. Eden then flew to Melbourne for a live sitting with Johnson, before returning to Sydney where he painted for up to six hours a day for 10 weeks to complete the portrait.
The men bonded over their shared experience of losing close family members to cancer. Johnson, who founded the cancer research charity Love Your Sister with his late sister Connie before she passed away in 2017, encouraged Eden to include his own story in the painting; the portrait shows Johnson holding a photograph of Eden’s mother Annette, who passed away from cancer in 2008.
Eden, who wins a $5,000 prize, said it was “an honour”.
“This painting has been one I have been thinking about and wanting to make for 10 years,” he said. “Sam is a storyteller at heart, and it was really important to find a way to share my own narrative while still capturing Sam’s character and emotion in the portrait.
“It is inspiring to see what Sam and the team at Love Your Sister have accomplished, having raised so much money for cancer research. I’ve followed Sam’s journey with the charity for many years and it’s a privilege to be able to contribute in my own way. It is amazing to be a finalist in the Archibald prize but knowing the painting has resonated with so many people makes the experience even more meaningful.”
Love Your Sister has raised more than $15m in support of cancer research. In 2016, Johnson was awarded the Order of Australia Medal, for his service to cancer research and performing arts.
Johnson called Eden “exceptionally talented”.
“He is an extraordinary storyteller, has a huge heart and deserves this acknowledgement so fully. To win the Archibald prize you have to satisfy a select group of people who really know their stuff. To win the people’s choice takes in the votes of everyone who sees the exhibition. The people have spoken and they loved Jeremy the most,” he said.
“Wow and phwoar. I’m stupidly happy for Jeremy. Such a well-deserved triumph.”
Maud Page, the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s deputy director and director of collections, said the portrait was a clear crowd favourite among visitors to the annual Archibald exhibition.
“We congratulate Jeremy Eden on capturing the hearts of our visitors with his powerful portrait of Samuel Johnson,” Page said.
Born in Sydney in 1988, Eden completed a bachelor of fine art at Queensland College of Art in 2015. He was also nominated for the Archibald prize in 2021, for his portrait of another actor, Firass Dirani.
First awarded in 1988, the people’s choice category this year was voted on by more than 35,000 people, the highest ever number of votes cast in the history of the category.
In May, the acclaimed Dhungatti artist Blak Douglas won the $100,000 Archibald prize for his portrait of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, titled Moby Dickens, making him the second Indigenous Australian winner in 101 years, after Vincent Namatjira in 2020.
And Claus Stangl’s portrait of film-maker Taika Waititi won the packing room prize, which is judged by gallery staff who hang the entries each year.