When artist Jiawei Shen arrived in Sydney in the 1980s, he supported himself by sketching portraits for tourists.
“I didn’t waste time. I used that time to research about the human face, about portraiture,” Mr Shen said.
“So after that time I became a professional portrait artist.”
Since then Mr Shen has painted everyone from Pope Francis, to former Prime Minister John Howard and Mary, the Crown Princess of Denmark.
“If the artist himself can sit at the front of his own painting and never want to stop, it means the painting is okay.”
However, it was his time serving as a member of China’s People’s Liberation Army that Mr Shen says greatly shaped his career.
“I had some experience in the army so I very much understand comradeship,” he said.
That understanding helped Mr Shen win the Gallipoli Art Prize for his painting of a famous World War I photograph.
It is the first time a Chinese-born Australian has won the award.
“As a Chinese-Australian artist, and also as a history painter, I think this is my duty,” Mr Shen said.
His portrait was described by judges as a stand-out.
“It’s got that heroic vision about it but it doesn’t descend into sentimentality,” said prize judge Jane Watters.
The piece was also praised by the director of the Gallipoli Memorial Club John Robertson for its unique perspective on Gallipoli.
“Love of country. Comradeship, friendship, loyalty,” he said.
Despite having painted hundreds of pieces throughout his career, Mr Shen described his winning Gallipoli portrait as one of his favourites.
“If the artist himself can sit at the front of his own painting and never want to stop, it means the painting is okay. This painting is for me like that.”
Portraits from the Gallipoli Art prize will be on display in Sydney until the end of the month.