A homage to one of the region's most influential Irish musicians has won the 2021 Warrnibald Prize.
South-west artist Georgina Sambell took out the first prize of $2000 for her piece titled 'Lex Paton' which honours the accordion player and founder of Lex's Shed - an Irish music group formed to raise money for charity.
In 1997 Lex decided to learn to play Irish music on his button accordion practising in his kitchen with two friends every Thursday night.
Within a year, sessions moved out to his garage forming 'Lex's Shed'.
In its heyday around 20 musicians played at the sessions each week.
During the 18 years that the shed was in action around 40-50 people had taken part in the informal sessions, with many performing together under the name 'Lex's Shed' to raise money for charity.
Two music groups Cill-Airne and The Likely Celts were formed as a result of musicians meeting, playing and bonding over a scone and a cuppa in Lex's shed.
Sambell joked Lex will 'probably hate' that his portrait won, which goes to the heart of the prize which honours unsung heroes who have made a significant contribution to the south-west.
"I've known Lex since I was a kid," Sambell said.
"I chose Lex because of his involvement with running Lex's Shed.
"He told me he didn't think he'd be an interesting enough subject. He's shy, he'll hate that I've won."
The judges celebrated Sambell's work as "skillfully executed," "energetic", and "well-balanced".
Sambell painted Lex over four hours in his living room from morning to noon.
"It's great to recognise all the people around the community doing amazing and great things," she said.
"Also artists get to have their work on walls without having it declined, the gallery is accepting of everyone's work.
"There's lots of great paintings in the prize and shows how much talent there is around the region."
The winners of the 2021 Warrnibald Prize Winners were announced Friday evening at the Warrnambool Art Gallery.
Guest judges, Charmaine Clarke, Liza McCosh and Madeleine Peters praised the work.
"The narrative presented for the sitter aptly demonstrated a long association with community and the development of music," Liza McCosh said.
Second prize of $500 was awarded to Jimmi Buscombe for his portrait of Connor Ovenden-Shaw; a prolific queer artist and writer exploring themes of gender, love and body image within their work.
In 2018 Connor and partner Ben were the first gay couple to be legally married in south-west Victoria.
"This placed Connor and Ben into the spotlight, attracting community and media attention, congratulations, death threats and physical violence," Buscombe said.
"My portrait of Connor is a celebration of their resilience, courage and pride, inviting the viewer to consider their relationship to the diversity of the human body, our perceptions of beauty, and the way we accept and care for each other."
Buscombe said he was thrilled to be recognised in the prize.
"For me it's a celebration of the local arts community coming together, painting the community's unsung heroes.
"It's a really important prize and we're so lucky the gallery puts on the prize, it's a beautiful celebration of our town."
Judge Madeleine Peters said the piece was a stand-out.
"This work struck me with its composition and striking impression made from across the room.
"A great subject with subtle movements of colour."
WAG director Vanessa Gerrans congratulated this year's 42 artists and their subjects.
"The portraits in this exhibition are all extremely accomplished and a fantastic display of the strength of south-west artists" Ms Gerrans said.
"Warrnambool should be very proud. It is the people who do their jobs exceptionally well and the volunteers who go beyond the call of duty that makes Warrnambool such a vibrant city.
"Often the portrait subjects are working selflessly for our community on life-long projects. When an artist chooses to honour their dedication through a portrait - it's their way of saying 'I see you'.
"That's a wonderful gift of respect. Particularly in a time of COVID19 isolation."
The Warrnibald Prize is presented in partnership with WDEA Works and helps to raise funds for WDEA's ArtLink program, which assists people of all abilities to achieve their potential.
Tom Scarborough, WDEA Works chief executive said The Warrnibald was a great platform for artists to display their work and connect with the community.
Included in this year's show are a wide variety of local identities, from school teachers, local musicians, shop owners, activists, and support workers.
The 2021 People's Choice Prize winners will be awarded First Prize $2000 and Second Prize $500 on Sunday September 5 at 2pm.
The Peoples Choice Prize Voting Portal is open until September 4: https://www.thewag.com.au/warrnibald-prize-2021-gallery.
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