An annual drawing competition known for once crowning a jumbled piece of cut-up carpet as the winner has gone the more traditional route this year.

An abstract piece inspired by the Pigeon Valley in the South Island has won the $20,000 Parkin Drawing Prize.

Head judge John Gow told the Herald his personal taste leaned towards more classic examples of "drawing", and towards pieces where he could see evidence of the human hand.

State Block by Kirsty Lillico won the prize in 2017. Photo / Supplied
State Block by Kirsty Lillico won the prize in 2017. Photo / Supplied

That was why he chose Nelson artist Michael Dell's Every Valley as the winner out of 78 finalists. The 78 are chosen by a panel from a selection of about 500.

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Gow said judging the competition was "sort of an honour and a burden".

"In the art world it's like sort of homing a target on your back for people to throw things at."

The winning piece is based on a combination of photographs Dell took of Pigeon Valley, where he gathers much of his source material from.

Michael Dell's Every Valley is an abstract piece based on Pigeon Valley. Photo / Supplied
Michael Dell's Every Valley is an abstract piece based on Pigeon Valley. Photo / Supplied

Dell said the work was "intentionally ambiguous" and that nature had no meaning in itself, "only what we bring to it".

Gow said the piece, measuring 1.9m by 1.4m, created a "mystery to the eye".

"I liked the way it took my eye into it and made you actively work at interpreting what Michael was putting down.

"I did feel like I was being drawn through a window into the unknown, simply because the definition wasn't there."

Gabriella Challis' Everything but the Bathroom consisted of a basin and toilet with writing on the insides. Photo / Supplied
Gabriella Challis' Everything but the Bathroom consisted of a basin and toilet with writing on the insides. Photo / Supplied

Dell said while the piece only took three days to make, it came about from "years of thinking".

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"I like it to be open-ended in terms of meaning."

Patron of the award, Chris Parkin, said the competition began seven years ago, and he believed it served an educational purpose to those who attended the exhibition.

"To really start appreciating art you have to believe in the integrity of the artist. You have to believe that an artist has put a part of their soul into that piece of work. To get something out of it, you have to make an effort to."

In 2017 the winner of the competition was Kirsty Lillico's State Block, an artfully draped installation of carpet that had been cut with a knife.

Gaye Jurisich's Incumber was made with wire. Photo / Supplied
Gaye Jurisich's Incumber was made with wire. Photo / Supplied

Some of the less traditional pieces this year included an installation of wire, and a toilet and basin with writing on the inside.

The Parkin Drawing Prize exhibition season runs until September 8 at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts gallery in Wellington. All the artworks will be for sale.