Whanganui student Tokararangi Poa has won a national award for his art work - a print entitled Descendants of Paikea.

The Whanganui High School student is the winner of the 2017 Wallace Secondary Schools Art Awards printmaking category.

Art teacher Graham Hall said Tokararangi's work was one of three Whanganui entries to make the final 30.

"There were over 400 entries from secondary schools around New Zealand and another Whanganui High School student as well as a Whanganui Girls' College artist had their work selected for the top 30."

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High School's Lily Claypole and Girls' College student Elleira Tubayan also made the top 30 and their work will be exhibited at the Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland until November 5.

Mr Hall said Tokararangi was a Year 12 student in his first year of print making.

"He is an exceptional talent - he has taken to the medium very quickly," he said.

The black ink print shows a reclining youth with eyes closed and apparently listening to something while his phone and headphones lie abandoned on the floor.

Outside, a group of tohorā (whales) swim by with the sun glinting off their backs.

Paikea is the legendary ancestor of the Ngati Porou tribe who inspired Witi Ihimaera's 1987 novel and the 2003 film Whale Rider.

The Wallace Art awards were initiated by Sir James Wallace who began collecting New Zealand art, particularly that of emerging artists, in the 1960s.

In 1992 he transferred his collection to a newly formed charitable trust and continued to fund it so that it could continue to add to the collection and support the arts in New Zealand.

Each year, since 1992, the trust had has held annual art awards and The Wallace Secondary Schools Art Awards was started in 2012 to recognise and celebrate emerging New Zealand talent.

Students can submit an original creation in illustration, painting, photography and printmaking.