Nick Stathopoulos has won the 2016 Archibald Prize People's Choice award with his hyper-real portrait of Blacktown’s Deng Adut, a lawyer and former child soldier in Sudan.
Stathopoulos is a serial Archibald finalist, having been represented five times in the prize.
“Not bad for a couple of Blacktown boys, I think!” said a delighted Stathopoulos, who contacted Adut after seeing him in a Western Sydney University advertisement.
He said the portrait took more than four months to complete. “I was so excited when he consented. He's an incredible, powerful and worthy subject for an artist.”
He added: “I don't think we give the general public enough credit when it comes to matters of art. In my experience they are very clued-in. And when it comes to the Archibald Prize People's Choice Award, they seem to get it right every year.”
Adut said the portrait was difficult for him to look at. “Nick, you are a great artist man,” he said on stage in sparkling black suit and bow tie. “When the painting came up and I saw it for the first time I told Nick that he had painted a monster, and you did paint a monster, you did.”
Asked later what he meant by this comment, Adut said he saw in the portrait his life story as a child soldier, his worries and responsibilities to his family in Sudan, and the flashbacks that continue to haunt him.
Unlike year's winner when the public was split between three portraits, the Adut Deng portrait was a very clear favourite, said the director of the Art Gallery of NSW Michael Brand.
The award was clear stamp of approval for the artist's creative vision, and a vote of confidence in the contribution of the sitter to the country, he said.
It's rare in the history of the Archibald Portrait Prize that public sentiment and the judges' opinion have coincided. The disputes have carried into the courts several times.
Since giving the viewing public the opportunity to vote for their favourite portrait in the Archibald Prize in 1988, it's gone only twice to the actual winner of arguably the most important portraiture prize in Australia.
This year's people's choice winner is no different. The winner of this year's main prize was Louise Hearman with her oil on Masonite portrait of the performer Barry Humphries.
The 2016 Packing Room Prize went to Betina Fauvel-Ogden's portrait of George Calombaris, Melbourne chef and restaurateur who came to widespread public attention as a judge on Network Ten's MasterChef Australia.
Last year Bruno Jean Grasswill's multi-coloured oil painting of Michael Caton was announced the public's choice.
Grasswill also took home the Packing Room Prize for his painting of the veteran screen star. But the Prize itself went to a larger-than-life portrait of the Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet by Nigel Milsom.
This year more than 15,000 visitors to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes voted for their favourite. The prize comes with a $3500 cheque.