The artists mingled, the considered nods of appreciation were as long as they were many and the future of the Illawarra's art scene looked in sure hands on Thursday night.
That's when the 2023 Keirabald was unveiled to a receptive audience at Wollongong's Project Contemporary Artspace.
The creative types - Year 5 and 6 students from Mount Ousley, Balgownie, Coniston, Fairy Meadow, Pleasant Heights and Wollongong public schools, as well as some year 7 students from Keira High School - were there to add personal explanations about their works to the opening night crowd.
Many of the crowd in fact doubled as subjects as the theme for this iteration of the annual competition was 'someone important to me'.
It was only fitting emerging Illawarra artists got the jump on the nation's leading prize for portraiture as hours after the Keirabald went public, the 2023 Archibald prize was announced.
Sydney-based artist Julia Gutman won the prestige plus $100,000 for her portrait, Head in the sky, feet on the ground, of singer-songwriter Montaigne.
The 29-year-old first-time Archibald Prize finalist is one of the youngest winners in the 102-year-history of the prize.
And if the Keirabald entrants needed any encouragement, that was it.
You can catch all 131 portraits in the Keirabald at Project Contemporary Artspace until Sunday.
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