It has just been announced that artist Nigel Milsom is this year's Archibald Prize winner with his portrait of barrister Charles Waterstreet, titled Judo house pt 6 (the white bird). Milsom lives and works in Newcastle and this year is his third time in the Archibald. He won the 2013 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize and the 2012 Sulman Prize.

"My relationship with Charlie took on more significance a few years ago when he represented me and in the pursuit of justice stood up to what seemed an unfair, impenetrable brick wall. He put his head on the chopping block and restored my faith in the legal system," says Milsom of his subject.

The Sir John Sulman Prize was won by emerging artist Jason Phu with his painting I was at yum cha when in rolled the three severed heads of Buddha: Fear, Malice and Death. Natasha Bieniek won the The Wynne Prize with her miniature Biophilia.

Rapper and author Omar Musa; singers Daniel Johns, Abbe May and Paul Kelly; and actors Noah Taylor and Michael Caton are among those depicted in 47 portraits selected as finalists in the 94th annual Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.

They were whittled down from 832 submissions, which this year included a record number of new and emerging artists who haven't been hung before.

The subjects of this year's selected portraits include, “Some of Australia’s most-loved musicians, CEOs, actors, barristers, soldiers and journalists,” according to gallery director Michael Brand. “A trending subject is gallery directors – four were painted – and emerging artists. Almost half are first-timers.”

The engaging and diverse selection includes portraits of soldier Mark Donaldson VC painted by skater and artist Shaun Gladwell; the late great artist and administrator Betty Churcher, captured by her son Peter Churcher; and White Rabbit gallerist Judith Neilson, painted by Chinese-Australian artist, Jiawei Shen.

The $100,000 prize is Australia's second-most lucrative art prize after the $150,000 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.

As is tradition, the naming of the finalists co-incided with the winner of the Packing Room Prize being announced, with the award going to French-born Sydney artist Bruno Jean Grasswill for his portrait of Michael Caton.

The $1500 prize is judged by the (un)packers and overseen by head packer Steve Peters. Peters says he had his eye on the Grasswill portrait from the moment it came in, although his colleagues joked he'd need to get his jousting stick out in a nod to Caton’s starring role in the 1997 film, The Castle.

Caton took time out from promoting his latest film, Last Cab to Darwin, to be at the announcement. “Bruno and I had a four-hour lunch but [the portrait] looks like the morning after an eight-hour lunch,” he says.

The Packing Room Prize is considered something of a curse; the selected artist has never gone on to win the Archibald Prize itself.

The Archibald finalists and winners are selected by the 11 trustees of the gallery, including president Guido Belgiorno-Nettis and artists Ben Quilty and Khadim Ali.

The Archibald Prize will be on display at the AGNSW from July 18 to September 27.

artgallery.nsw.gov.au