All eyes may have been on the full frontal nude depiction of Labour leader Andrew Little, but painter André Hemer was the big winner at the Wallace Art Awards.
The 35 year old, now based in Vienna, was named the Wallace Arts Trust Paramount Award recipient, one of 88 finalists from 371 entries. Hemer, who has studied and worked all over the world, receives a six month residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York.
"I knew I had won something, but I didn't know exactly what," he says. "It's amazing and I'm thrilled, but it is taking a while to sink in perhaps because I wasn't actually at the ceremony and didn't get a call telling me what I'd won until later."
Hemer was collecting his mother, who was visiting him from Christchurch, and was on a train and out of contact at the time. He says it was wonderful to have his mum with him when he heard the news.
"We didn't cry or get overly emotional, though. I think mum was a bit jet-lagged, to be honest."
In 2011, Hemer won the National Contemporary Art Award and the Bold Horizons Contemporary Art Award. He has worked all over the world and exhibited in New Zealand as well as Australia, Korea, Taiwan, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Hemer's work is described as an exploration of painting in the digital age, exploring the intersection between contemporary cultures, the digital and material worlds. His winning artwork, Big Node #10, 2015, features acrylic and pigment on canvas.
Sir James Wallace, director of the Wallace Arts Trust, said the great, challenging, and enigmatic work demonstrated why Hemer is regarded as one of the top new artists on the international art scene. Judge Richard Maloy said the painting was the one work he found he couldn't get out of his mind and was constantly drawn back to.
Hemer has lived in Vienna for the past eight months, and is preparing for a solo show in Los Angeles and a group show in Sydney.
"In New Zealand, there's always an element of geographical dislocation and, at a certain point, it helps to be in a more central part of the world," he says, adding that studio rents are much cheaper in Vienna than they are in NZ.
"And my girlfriend is Austrian..."
He says the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in New York - one of the world's great art capitals - is something all artists dream of.
Other Wallace Art Award winners are: Fulbright-Wallace Arts Trust Award, Simon Morris: A Whole and Two Halves (yellow Ochre); the Kaipara Wallace Arts Trust Award, Jeremy Blincoe: Tropic of Chaos; the Wallace Arts Trust Vermont Award, Weilun Ha: Breathtakingly Fragile; First Runner-up Award, Matthew Browne: Sophistes, Second Runner-up Award, Antje Barke, Tamaki Redevelopment Retaining Wall; Jury Award, Josephine Cachemaille and Jen Bowmast, Are you picking up what I am putting down.
The rug, by Whanganui artist Mark Rayner, which featured a naked image of the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, was not among the winning finalists.
Now in their 25th year, the annual Wallace Art Awards offer prizes totalling more than $220,000 and aim to support, promote and expose New Zealand contemporary art and artists. From the 88 finalists, 47 have been chosen for the Award Winners & Travelling Finalists exhibition at the Pah Homestead, TSB Wallace Arts Centre until November 13 before travelling to the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville and the Pataka Art + Museum in Porirua. Other finalists' work, including Rayner's, features in the Salon des Refusés, at the Pah until November 6.