The announcement of Sydney artist Blak Douglas as the winner of this year's $50,000 Kilgour Prize, for his painting of actor and singer Ursula Yovich, marks two milestones in the Australian art world.
Adam Douglas Hill, who works under the professional pseudonym Blak Douglas, is the first Aboriginal artist to take home the figurative and portrait painting prize, based at Newcastle Art Gallery, in the competition's 13-year history.
It's the first major win for the prolific painter, who has been selected as a finalist in the Archibald Prize three times, including in 2019, and has had works collected by the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, as well as internationally.
Newcastle Art Gallery director Lauretta Morton said the portrait was a unanimous favourite between her and the other judges, artist and Victorian College of the Arts director Jon Cattapan and Campbelltown Arts Centre director Michael Dagostino.
"We just found it a beautiful composition," Ms Morton said. "Often you'll have figurative works and in a lot of them [the figures] are in the centre. What we really loved about this was it was off to the left but it was still so powerful. You can see the relationship and respect from painter to the subject.
"I am delighted Newcastle is the first time Blak Douglas has been recognised as a winner," she said. "It's validation for artists that what they are doing is respected."
Mr Hill, who works from a studio in Redfern, said he felt "relief more than excitement" at the news.
"In that it's been twenty years since I won the last one. I won an emerging artist award. Two years ago, I took the big leap and just focused on entering awards. Lo and behold, the first major victory."
Mr Hill said his portrait captured the personality of Yovich, a personal friend, as well as a message.
"The metaphors for Ursula standing on the chair are quite layered. In essence, it's that today the most disenfranchised person in this country is the Aboriginal female," he said.
Ms Yovich, who he described as being, "knee-high to a grasshopper", was rehearsing for a play in Sydney at the time he took her photograph for the portrait.
"She was standing on the chair and I said, give me a bit of attitude, and that became it. She's stunningly gorgeous in person ... and I put her in her jarmies, really.
"There's no bullsh*t. That's Ursula's character to the core. And that's why we love her and that's why she's so successful."
Mr Hill said the prize money would go towards finding a bigger working space as well as funding his recent foray into sculpture.
Finalist works can be viewed at the gallery until October 13.