TUCKED away in sheds, spare bedrooms, garages and studios across the south-west are quiet pockets of artists; their fingers streaked with colour and flecks of paint in their hair as they work arduously on creative projects.
While art is a solitary pursuit, the outcome can be very public - with thousands of sets of eyes passing over works at galleries and exhibitions.
That is the case for four Warrnambool artists - Matthew Clarke, Glenn Morgan, Kathryn Ryan and Harley Manifold - with success with major national art prizes.
The four were selected for the prestigious prizes Archibald, Sulman and the Salon des Refusés of the Archibald and Wynne.
The creativity of our region is making its mark.Kathryn Ryan
Stepping into Kathryn Ryan's Warrnambool home, it's a hive of creativity. She's taken over three rooms for her craft, with a painting room, stock room and office, with art all through the house and hallways.
"I love having a studio at home where my home life and studio life are the same thing," Ryan said.
"I work most days and can work at night; it gives me the freedom to work around the clock whenever it suits.
"It's a bit of a hermit life but you need that to be quiet and retreat to be able to create and make that space and time for yourself."
Her oil on linen Wynne Prize entry 'End of the Road' was selected for the Salon des Refusés.
It depicts the trees at the end of the road on her parents' family farm in Panmure, painted at the very last light of the day. It's a row of trees Ryan has passed her whole life which hold many memories and emotions.
It's the seventh time she's been selected for the Salon and she's been in the Wynne Prize three times.
"It's always an honour to get in the Salon and be selected by the curators," she said. "It's usually a really high standard and you're showing alongside all your peers.
"It's beautiful and the gallery gets a lot of exposure.
"I've always been drawn to the mood of those wintery landscapes, it's a more reflective time.
"Having grown up here, moved away and come back, there's so much history of your memories looking at the landscape.
"The landscape is a witness to your life, and your life a witness to the changing landscape."
The piece took around four months to complete, through a slow process of building up transparent glazes to get the quality of light and depth of tone.
The Salon des Refusés was initiated by the S.H. Ervin Gallery in 1992 in response to the large number of works entered into the Archibald Prize which were not selected for display in the official exhibition.
The Archibald Prize is one of Australia's most high profile and respected awards which attracts hundreds of entries each year and the S.H. Ervin Gallery's 'alternative' selection has become a much anticipated feature of the Sydney scene.
Each year the panel is invited to go behind the scenes of the judging process for the annual Archibald Prize for portraiture and Wynne Prize for landscape painting and figure sculpture at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, to select an exhibition from the many hundreds of works entered in both prizes but not chosen for the official award exhibition.
Alongside Ryan in the Salon is Warrnambool artist Harley Manifold.
One will usually find him in paint-splattered clothes in his studio on the second floor of the F Project in Warrnambool's city centre.
As he works, anything from hip-hop to minimalist electronic trickles out from the speakers - whatever he's feeling like at the time.
His portrait of fellow Warrnambool artist Gareth Colliton and landscape painting was selected for the Salon des Refusés Archibald and Wynne.
It's not Manifold's first time being selected for the Salon but he admits it's "pretty cool".
"It's incredible, I think the best bit of the painting was of Gareth as he martyrs himself for the art cause, which is not only a reflection of art but a great reflection of him as a person and all he does.
"It's great to see it recognised."
The second landscape painting selected, 'Buy some, let's ride the train together' is of a back country road at night with a car's headlights driving down it.
The empty road is illuminated by the headlights, revealing the faint outline of cypress trees.
Manifold jokes that he's "bulletproof" to criticism now but a younger him may not have been as impartial.
"I take it objectively; if they (the critics) said something really nasty you've got to question where that's coming from," he said.
"I feel my artwork is better than it's ever been; it's more honest and vulnerable."
Manifold largely paints nocturnal landscapes with soft glowing lights.
"They're quiet, peacefully quiet," he said. "Some also have a slight edge of tension.
"Specifically the light in the paintings represent hope especially through the last 18 months.
"When I started painting them when moved to Warrnambool I thought I'd never done anything like it. When I step back I can now see it's a continuation of a theme I started a long time ago; I look forward to stepping back again in 20 years to see what the body of work looks like."
Manifold grew up in Camperdown, then moved to Geelong, Melbourne, Torquay and back to Warrnambool.
He describes his paintings as little postcards to himself.
"Before I moved back to Warrnambool I had all these figures inhabiting the paintings but when I got to Warrnambool the figures disappeared.
"It took me a while to realise the figures in the paintings were always me; facing the west as I moved away, always looking towards the sunset and to home.
"When I got here I realised I found home, and all paintings were little memorials and postcodes getting to know myself and home."
His exhibition 'I know you heard me, but are you listening?' will open on July 9 at the Warrnambool Art Gallery.
Glenn Morgan's vibrant and detailed piece, 'The best loser' was a finalist in the Sir John Sulman Prize, one of Australia's longest-running art prizes.
This painting tells the story of Morgan's father's boxing match with the popular, charismatic Aboriginal elder Henry 'Banjo' Clarke in their youth.
"Banjo, who was a Gunditjmara man from south-west Victoria, was a very good boxer and three years older than Dad," he explained.
"It was a close match. After the final round, Banjo collapsed but won the fight on points.
"At the end of the night, Dad was presented with a trophy for the 'best loser'.
"Dad told me this story a couple of years before he died. He would say, 'Bloody best loser, what a trophy to win!' He would have a good laugh. My father really liked old Banjo."
Most of Morgan's vivid creations, which have earnt him acclaim across the country, come "straight out of [his] head".
He's been a finalist in the Sulman four times before.
"I'm always thrilled to get in," he said.
His pieces push back against the notion that art is untouchable.
"I made my art because when I had my first son I did drawings for his bedroom and he kept wanting to touch them all the time," Morgan said.
"It made me realise it was something we should be catering for in the art world; everyone's scared of touching the precious art."
His masterpieces are created in his shed studio in the back of his Warrnambool home.
"It's just a shed out the back, a mongrel old one-and-a-half car garage.
"Now that I'm retired I have a lot more time in the studio. This latest one took me about six weeks to create."
The creativity of the region is making its mark on the national art scene.
"I reckon Warrnambool bats well above its average," Morgan said. "There's a lot of really talented people around.
"They all quietly work in their back room, or shed or garage, and no-one hears much about them but they keep on making work.
"Making art is pretty solitary, most of the time being an artist is to be in the studio working.
"It's a lovely place to be and it's good for your head."
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