Whakatane landscape painter Ian McKelvey has joined a small but envied group of local artists who have won the prestigious Molly Morpeth Canaday Art Award.
Mr McKelvey's achievement was announced on Friday night as part of the festival gala opening of the art award exhibition, and no one was more surprised than the artist himself.
"Shocked but also very excited," Mr McKelvey said on Saturday.
"It was quite an amazing feeling that I'm really at a loss to try and explain."
He becomes the fourth local to claim the major prize since the awards began in 1986.
His painting, Main Ridge Pakihiroa Station, is from a place very familiar to Mr McKelvey, who worked in the forestry industry and for the then Lands and Survey Department on the East Coast.
Pakihiroa Station is inland from Ruatoria and close to Mount Hikurangi, the mountain that can be seen peeking above the ridge in the painting.
In fact it was the love of working outdoors and on the land that was responsible for the artist taking a 30-year sabbatical from painting.
"I was mentored by Norm McLean while at Gisborne Boy's High School and had considered a career in art. But then I got my first job in forestry, really enjoyed it, and pretty much forgot about painting." About six years ago he said to his wife "I wonder if I can still paint".
"I finished the first painting and entered it into the Molly Morpeth Awards six years ago. It was selected for exhibition but did not place. I did the same thing the following year and was again selected and again did not place."
Told by a judge to go bigger with his work, Main Ridge Pakihiroa Station was one of the biggest entries this year. Distinguished judge Melvin Day CNZM, a founding member of Rotorua's Art Society, described the painting as "reminiscent of Christopher Nevinson, a war artist who depicted the shattered trees of no man's land during World War I".
"The artist has depicted a starkness revealing the depredation of a forest and the bleakness of a landscape as a consequence. The work has been well assessed and treated in a way in which the direction of the fallen trees present a subtle pyramidal structure to the composition," Mr Day said.
Mr McKelvey won $10,000 as the major award winner and $500 for his merit award for the local artist award. His painting also sold for $4500.
More than 330 entries were received for this year's awards, from which 74 finalists were selected for the exhibition, held at the new Whakatane Library and Exhibition Centre.
A total of 15 paintings were sold on opening night , a record for the awards.