Bernie Shakeshaft portrait a finalist in Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award

Bernie and Billy Local Heroes, oil on linen, 180 x 120cm, by David Darcy. One of 38 finalists in the 2020 Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award.

Bernie and Billy Local Heroes, oil on linen, 180 x 120cm, by David Darcy. One of 38 finalists in the 2020 Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award.

A portrait of Australia's Local Hero for 2020 Bernie Shakeshaft is in the running for one of the country's richest art prizes.

From more than 250 entries, a shortlist of 38 works were this week named finalists in the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award, worth $50,000 to the winner.

Artist David Darcy from Murrurundi in the NSW Hunter region has created a poignant image of Shakeshaft and dog Billy.

He took to his Instagram page to say how thrilled he was it had been shortlisted for the biennial prize for portraiture, which goes on exhibition in Bega in late July.

Darcy last year won the Archibald Prize's people's choice award and just this week was named people's choice winner of the National Portrait Gallery's inaugural Darling Portrait Prize.

In his submission for the Shirley Hannan, Darcy said he met Shakeshaft at an animal welfare conference in Armidale 10 years ago.

"Shakeshaft is the founder and CEO of Backtrack, a youth support organisation that has been helping disadvantaged young people since 2006. I was so impressed with his passion and enthusiasm for helping underprivileged kids.

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"Bernie's mantra is 'keep kids alive, out of jail, and give them a chance to chase their hopes and dreams'.

"BackTrack's participants are given the responsibility of a working dog. The relationship with a dog helps with confidence in teenagers who've been struggling with feelings of worthlessness."

Now in its 18th year, the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award offer $50,000 in prize money. The 38 finalists were chosen by a panel comprising Bega Valley Regional Gallery director Iain Dawson, Shirley Hannan's son Peter Hannan and South East Arts CEO Andrew Gray.

Shirley Hannan was a gifted Bega Valley portraitist and a generous patron of the arts.

"She was very passionate about traditional portrait painting, which was her real field of interest and her passion," Mr Hannan said of his mother establishing the award.

National Portrait Gallery director Karen Quinlan is guest judge for the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award 2020

National Portrait Gallery director Karen Quinlan is guest judge for the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award 2020

A prerequisite for the award was made that those works selected to hang depict their subjects accurately without abstraction and demonstrate a sound skill and knowledge of drawing and painting technique. The award was established with a specific and unremitting realist bent, which continues to this day.

Other notable subjects among the short-listed works include Indigenous author Bruce Pascoe, reknowned artist Ben Quilty, comedian and media personality Matt Okine, Indigenous singer-songwriter Kev Carmody and Bob Hawke's widow Blanche D'Alpuget.

The winner of the award will be announced at a streamed launch event on Friday, July 24.

National Portrait Gallery director Karen Quinlan is guest judge.

All 38 finalist portraits can be viewed on the BVRG website.

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