HE'S in the foreground of the Warrnibald art prize's winning piece this year but been in the background of its artist's career for more than decade.
Hawkesdale's Des Bunyon is the subject of Karen Richards' small embroidery portrait Des, which received the 2020 prize on Friday.
Mr Bunyon, whose Customs House Gallery was formerly at South West TAFE, offered Ms Richards her first exhibition around 2007.
"He's someone who thought what I was doing was worthwhile. It was that first stepping stone that got me started," Ms Richards said.
"If that had been someone different it could have been really crushing and I might not have gone on to have that career as a visual artist."
She described Mr Bunyon and wife Helen as "quiet and modest people yet the first to go to an arts exhibition to support".
The small size of the work hasn't let it be overlooked. Judge Simon Lawrie said its "vibrant detail" and "delicate intimacy" highlights Mr Bunyon's "importance to the community fabric of Warrnambool".
Ms Richards said she was "ecstatic" her work had won, after entering four previous years.
The work took years to create and is a second attempt after she discarded a previous version following the death of a sibling.
"It's great to finish that work that has been going on for fives years in my head, but probably took six months in the actual making," she said.
"It's not about the winning, it's about the relationship with your sitter and it's about celebrating those really doing things for the community."
Ms Richards said she had plans for the prize money "to benefit the local arts community".
WDEA Works and the Warrnambool Art Gallery presented the prize on Friday.
Second prize went to to Elisabeth Claire Macrae-Drylie for her portrait titled The Terrier of Warrnambool journalist Carol Altmann.
The competition started in 2012 and judged 46 works this year, including of front-line nurses to social workers, and advocates for diversity and social justice.
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