A scruffy, bearded man with an "unconventional" way of living touched the hearts of many during his lifetime with his artistic legacy now being honoured in film, in print and across two separate Illawarra institutions.
There were highs and lows in Ian Gentle's remarkable life. The late artist lived as a squatter from time to time or couch-surfed at friends' homes, but the passionate sculptor and teacher also inspired greats like Archibald-winning painter Paul Ryan or National Gallery curator Deborah Hart to follow their dreams.
His life and his work are on show at the Wollongong Art Gallery, the Clifton School of Arts (CSA) where he made his home for 10 years, and in a new short film and a book created by David Roach - and it was all sparked by a chance discovery.
"I was down in the storage room and found this pretty extraordinary image of what looked like a man sitting in a pile of junk ... and I just had to find out who he is," said Roach, the CSA president.
That man was Gentle, who began a residency at the school in 1986 - "back when it was pretty dank" - and it was his place to call home until the building was condemned and in danger of collapse in 1996 (the building has since been restored thanks to community efforts).
"That's what got me started. My wife said 'We should celebrate his time here by having a little show'. I started to talk to people and it was almost instantly I found this outpouring of goodwill about this man, completely unexpected," Roach said.
"That creative person moving into a small community can have ripple effects across generations, that I can still see. He died in 2009, but I can still see the effect that he had on the community of artists in the Illawarra ... and I thought that's worth celebrating."
The more Roach talked to people the more he realised the enormity of Gentle's presence in the art community.
"In the 40-year history of the creative arts at the University of Wollongong, I think he's by far the most influential lecturer they ever had," he said.
"He's not your traditional sort of professor or teacher, he lived the creative life, chaotic and random. But in my personal opinion, I think he showed them what it meant to be an artist.
"He showed them what it meant to really dedicate yourself to living that creative life for all of its ups and downs ... they saw in him a way of living a life that would be satisfying."
Long-time friend Noel Thurgate first met Gentle in 1974 in his first year of art school, and his new friend was living in the Greyhound Bus Terminal.
"He really was unconventional, he was completely oblivious to self-presentation and self-preservation, his wardrobe was always supplied by [Vinnies] ... he couldn't care less about his appearance," Thurgate said, but also offered that Gentle had a magnetic personality.
It was a very "fortunate time" during the Whitlam years, he said, with free fees and financial assistance for university students allowing them a lifestyle they might not otherwise have been able to afford.
Gentle was "a powerful magnet" to all in his path: "funny and engaging", he always had a story to tell.
Thurgate believes the enormous body of artworks - from sculpture to drawings, lino prints and more - is one part of his legacy, but also the influence he had on shaping other people's destinies.
"Obviously his students and the people that he taught, but colleagues and other artists too," he said.
"Ian was a modest guy in one respect, but he was a strong influence and ... he had a really good work ethic. To quote his words: 'Head down, bum up, and away you go, just get in there and do it'."
The Gentle Project is on now at the Clifton School of Arts, Horny Sticks and Whispering Lines is an exhibition of Gentle's work at the Wollongong Art Gallery from now until March, while A Gentle Response is a collection of artworks and anecdotes made "in response" to the sculptor's life (also at Wollongong Art Gallery, until February).
There will be artist talks on December 11, January 11 and 31, and February 18 between the two venues, along with poetry, drawing and sculpture workshops. (For details, visit: www.wollongongartgallery.com).