The winning work of a drawing competition known for its controversial entries has been described as "vibrant", 'irrepressible" and "baffling".
Waikato artist Mark Braunias has been announced the winner of the 2021 Parkin Drawing Prize for his work entitled "In search of the Saccharine Underground".
His work was one of 563 entries from around the country – the highest number in seven years – and one of 80 finalists which will be showcased throughout the month in Wellington.
Catching the judges' eye for its "raucous energy", the work has earned Braunias the award's $25,000 prize, sponsored by arts patron and philanthropist Chris Parkin.
Described as a playful "halfway point between drawing and painting" Braunias' piece is a vast 2m by 3m modernist abstract work, using ink and acrylic on industrial builders' paper.
Braunias said the piece contrasts sweet, simple imagery with a more serious undertone, and is part of a body of work to be exhibited later this year.
"The imagery appears on the surface to be quite cute, quite sweet … those bright, pastel-y jarring colours that you might associate with a kids' room," Braunias said.
"The imagery looks cartoon-y, slightly happy but if you look a little closer they're slightly deviant with a bit of a grungy aesthetic to them.
"The forms I've articulated are quite strenuous, quite rigorous in terms of the contour, the juxtaposition of shapes and the internal forms are quite complicated in terms of the arrangement of elements."
This contrast ties in with the name "Saccharine Underground" - a phrase used in the late 1960s to define pop music that had a heavy edge, but was presented with an ironic superficiality.
"I've used that expression as an analogy of the work I'm doing in the context of New Zealand art," Braunias said.
"The narrative around a lot of New Zealand art, at least historically is the gothic, something quite profound, lots of serious meaning behind it."
A well-established contemporary painter living on the west coast of the Waikato, Braunias has had his work exhibited around New Zealand for 30 years.
He was the inaugural winner of the Wallace Art Award in 1992, and in 2011 was awarded a residency scholarship at the Headlands Centre for the Arts in San Francisco.
Judge Dr Sarah Farrer, who is the Head of Curatorial and Exhibitions at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, selected "In search of the Saccharine Underground" on Friday from 80 shortlisted works.
"There was something radically different about Mark's work that kept me interested. I just kept coming back to it – [it's] very vibrant and full of energy.
"I think also it's a very curious work, I'm slightly baffled by it but in a really positive way – I want to keep looking and figure it out, [it's] like a puzzle almost."
Farrer had spent several hours making her decision, choosing from a selection that had already been shortlisted by a wider circle of judges.
There had been a broad variety of artworks within the shortlist, and she also selected 10 highly commended works, each awarded a $500 prize.
"In some cases it was clear the artist had spent hours and hours and hours just very meticulously working a surface with charcoal or pencil," she said.
"And in other cases it was as if the work had emerged out of one creative flourish, and from a single gesture.
"And just to see such a broad range of people from across the country, and also different generations of artists – some young emerging artists alongside some well-established senior artists as well."
Philanthropist and arts patron Chris Parkin had not seen the entries before the exhibition opened, and said he had been surprised by the winner in past years.
"I've always made it a point to not have anything to do with the judging process or the curating process.
"For me it's just as big a surprise as it is for everyone else ... like having an extra birthday.
"I don't think there's been a year where the winner of the prize would be the work that would have been picked by me, which is probably a really good reason for me to never be involved in the judging."
The most memorable prizewinners from previous years were those that had pushed the boundaries and created controversy, he said.
Drawings that came to mind were 2017 winner "State Block" by Kirsty Lilico – which comprised salvaged carpet from a state house - and last year's winning piece "Forward slash" from Wellington woman Poppy Lekner.
"Last year's prize was given to an artist who produced an A4 sheet of backslashes on an old typewriter," Parkin said.
Despite some avant-garde artworks entered into the competition every year, Parkin liked to keep the definition of a "drawing" up to the discretion of the judges.
"We've had green gauze horses hanging down from the ceiling, we've had pieces of carpet. We've had dust from a vacuum cleaner on the floor of the gallery as an exhibit."
"It's been a pretty wild ride but I'm still not tempted to put rules in place."
The Parkin Drawing Prize exhibition runs until August 29 at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Queens Wharf, Wellington.
All artworks are for sale.