A particularly timely painting has taken out this year’s Archibald People’s Choice award. It was announced this morning that Julia Ciccarone – a two-time Archibald finalist – has been voted the audience favourite both by those who visited the exhibition in real life, and those who experienced it virtually during lockdown. The Sea Within depicts the artist lying with wet hair, wrapped in a childhood blanket and gripping paintbrushes in front of a raging sea; it was created during Melbourne’s 2020 lockdown and conveys the all-too-familiar sense of trying to seek comfort while the world outside spins out of control.

“When I painted this work, life was intense and overwhelming,” said Ciccarone from Melbourne, which is once again in lockdown. “It’s hard to believe that we are still experiencing times of great uncertainty, more than a year on. I believe we share in a collective trauma. But the ocean – which features large in my life and art – is my healing place.”

The People’s Choice award is voted on by those who have visited the Archibald (usually in-person, but this year also virtually). Ciccarone will be awarded $5000 for her moving piece.

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“Julia Ciccarone is an accomplished painter whose highly detailed work immediately struck a chord with audiences,” said the Art Gallery of NSW’s director Michael Brand. “Her depiction of vulnerability in a time of uncertainty continues to resonate as we once again navigate life in lockdown and seek both solace and shared connections through art.”

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2021 exhibition will not reopen in Sydney; you can still view it online.