The 2019 Armidale Art Prize is "a fabulous collection of art in a variety of forms," New England Art Society president Tess Cullen said - and this year's standard was particularly high.
It was a formidable line-up of local talent. Eighty-odd artists from the Northern Tablelands region and "down the hill", Tamworth way, had entered this year's Armidale Art Prize. Some were well-known local artists with plenty of form; others were new exhibitors.
Picking the winners must have been difficult even for artists as experienced as painter Fay Porter and sculptor Carl Merten. The judges spent four and a half hours on Friday running their eyes over the field.
In the end, the judges went for work that took risks. They consulted, deliberated, and announced their results at the opening at the Armidale Art Gallery on Saturday.
First prize for Painting went to Guyra artist Anna Henderson, for her "Writing on the Wall". She has been a member of the art society for some time, and won many prizes. She was surprised her experimental abstract landscape won. Second prize went to Janet Reid's "Up in the Clouds".
Armidale artist Rita Winiger took the Works on Paper first prize with her "Tannenbaum", a charcoal drawing of a winter landscape. The judges loved the looseness, Ms Cullen said. "It tells a story, but there's a freedom to it." Liz Fulloon's "After Whitely" came second.
Liz Powell's "Parasol for an Arid Landscape" received first prize in the Sculpture / Craft Art section. She took a rusty old umbrella, and spent hours painting and stitching on images: an example of recycling and recreating, turning old into new, Ms Cullen said. This was the first time Ms Powell had exhibited with the Art Society in her 35-year career. Second prize went to Mary Quinn's enamelled butterfly necklace.
Kerry Dunne's "Blue Gold Study Down by the Dam", an Impressionist depiction of water and colours, came first in the Environment section across all categories.
The 163 pieces on display include stone and resin sculptures; photographs of puffins, and sketches of horses; baskets made from native barks; hand-embroidered pictures of the Outback; raku pottery; reconstituted plastic bags; and botanic paintings. Ms Cullen's own work is a broken pot studded with throwaway glass and old teacups.
The public will be able to see the artworks until July 2 - and even vote for their favourite. The People's Choice award will be announced at the end of the exhibition.
"There are always two or three front-runners, but just about every piece someone thinks is the best painting, picture, or sculpture in the place!" Ms Cullen said.
Visitors can also take their choice home with them; all the works are for sale. The money goes directly to the artists themselves, after the gallery takes its commission. The money keeps the gallery afloat, supports local artists, and encourages people to express themselves, Ms Cullen said.
Art and creative expression are necessary to a balanced life, Ms Cullen believes, especially in an age when we spend too much time staring at screens.
"I would like to see art as something that people love, buy, and put on their walls, and make their homes more homely. People will spend a lot of money on a television, but maybe they won't spend the same for something on their wall. Buying a quality piece of work, you can love it for a lifetime."
Local artist Julia Hardman has also donated a landscape to be raffled. The winner will be drawn at the opening of the Daphne Young Watercolour Art Prize in August. The money goes towards prizes: "another way of creating sponsorship for artists," Ms Cullen explained.
The Armidale Art Prize 2019 exhibition runs at the Armidale Art Gallery, 168 Beardy St, until Monday, July 2.