The spur-of-the-moment haircut that leads to $25k Parkin Drawing Prize win

An artwork that drew inspiration from a spur-of-the-moment DIY haircut in the middle of a Covid-19 isolation period has won the $25,000 Parkin Drawing Prize.

‘Liam Cutting His Hair After An All-nighter’ by Wellington’s Siân Stephens, 26, was selected as the winner of the annual prize by judge Felicity Milburn. The win was announced at a function on Monday night at Wellington’s NZ Academy of Fine Arts with arts patron Chris Parkin, who funds the awards.

Just hours after being told of her win Stephens, who creates art in her spare time, said she was in shock. “I tried to be very cool about it, but I did a bit of a scream and ran about.”

The visitor services host at City Gallery Wellington, was chosen as winner from a record 588 entries and 76 finalist works nationwide.

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Artist Siân Stephens in front of her artwork at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington on Monday.


Artist Siân Stephens in front of her artwork at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington on Monday.

Stephens based on the artwork off a photograph she took of her boyfriend Liam cutting his 40-centimeter-long locks at the end of a night spent drinking coffee in April.

The pair were in a particularly long isolation period, having sat through a cycle of their flatmates’ sicknesses before becoming ill themselves. Liam, a musician and sonic artist, decided to stay up one night working.

Stephens remembers being woken up to his saying he was going to sever his tresses. As the process began, “in beautiful light”, she decided to document the moment. Stephens recalls that Liam was enjoying himself, while she was emotional and mourning. “[I was like] a toddler who sees their dad without their beard for the first time.”

A seasoned oil painter who had not drawn anything in years, Stephens decided to use the Parkin competition as motivation to re-engage with the practice. She had never entered the contest before.

Still in isolation, some of Stephens’ friends brought her a care package of art supplies. She used the photograph as reference and, unusually for her, began working on it almost immediately. The finished 42cm x 48.5cm artwork is made of coloured pencil, ink pen and acrylic on brown paper.

Milburn said Stephens’ work spoke to her and gave her a visceral response during the blind judging process. It left a bit to the imagination, she said, which was often difficult to do with portraiture.

“It had a really strong sense of character and of a real life within that body,” Milburn said.

The image told the viewer “very little” and was mysterious in ways, as the subject was only visible from the back and their reflection was obscured. Small details like Liam’s shirt and necklace had been observed tenderly, Milburn said, but the artwork also had great economy and spareness. “It’s this intriguing, compelling moment you’ve found them in.”

Milburn also awarded 10 highly commended prizes worth $500 each.

Stephens works as a visitor services host at City Gallery Wellington.


Stephens works as a visitor services host at City Gallery Wellington.

Stephens said prior to being photographed, Liam allowed her to paint his nails blue, as she was feeling sad.

“He is the most supportive and inspiring person to be around,” she said. “He was really excited when I said I wanted to do this. Having an audience made it more of a momentous occasion than what it was.”

  • Exhibition Featuring finalist works and past Parkin Drawing Prize winners runs to September 11 at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts, Queens Wharf, Wellington.

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