Melbourne artist Richard Lewer has won the 2020 Paul Guest Prize with a charcoal work that sums up the year Victorians experienced.
The New Zealand-born artist's work - titled 2020 - calls back to the bushfires the state battled through at the start of the year as well as the mask-covered life people have endured during the coronavirus pandemic.
"There were so many horrific images in the media depicting the personal, community and environmental losses you couldn't help but be impacted by the enormity even safely far away in the city," he said.
"I felt the need to visit some of these communities in the aftermath of the fires to grasp the sobering reality of confronting disaster and loss.
"This drawing depicts people in an urban setting wearing face masks, cities beset by smoke pollution and ash, soon to be plagued by the outbreak of COVID-19."
Lewer also works with video, animation, painting and performance. He has previously received the Blake Prize for Religious Art and the Basil Sellers Art Prize. He was also an Archibald finalist in 2017.
Guest judge and Heide Museum of Modern Art artistic director Leslie Hardingsaid Lewer's workserves both as a snapshot and a summary of the year's redirection.
"This is a powerful drawing loaded with portent and very much of its times; part observation and large part pithy and incisive social commentary," she said.
The Paul Guest Prize is biennial award worth $15,000 that showcases contemporary drawing in Australia. It was founded by former Family Court judge and Olympic rower Paul Guest.
"It has been a very tough year for the Bendigo Art Gallery arising from the situation imposed by the COVID-19 restrictions," Mr Guest said.
"I would like to extend my sincere and over-all gratitude to the gallery for all that it has done though such testing times in facilitating this Drawing Prize.
"The task that confronted (judge) Lesley Harding was indeed a daunting one. In my view, we were very fortunate indeed in having her undertake such an onerous burden in such testing times.
"I am personally aware of (Richard Lewer's) outstanding reputation and, if I may be bold enough to say, his drawing is remarkable, topical and pre-eminent.
"I have had the undoubted advantage of personally viewing the exhibition at the Gallery and can say with absolute candor that its selection has emerged from a prestigious and stellar field of finalists."
Bendigo Art Gallery director Jessica Bridgfoot said the prize encourages artists from across Australia to engage with an important medium.
"This is a popular event that highlights the ongoing relevance of the medium of drawing, and the result is always exceptional and wide-ranging," she said. "This year we see embroidered textiles, text-based and digital works, as well as more traditional forms, and each revealing exceptional skill."
The Paul Guest Prize exhibition is at Bendigo Art Gallery until February 7.