When Tony Costa set out to paint his Archibald Prize-winning portrait of fellow artist Lindy Lee he knew there was "no safety net".
Painted over just two days in Costa's Strathfield studio, there was a very real chance the figurative expressionist painting - the 2019 winner of the $100,000 portraiture prize - could have ended up in the trash.
"It's wet on wet, it has to be done in one or two sittings at the very most," Costa said on Friday.
"The risk of contaminating the paint and making it look tired is very real if you start overpainting. So they either work (or) I just throw them out and start again. No safety net."
Costa said it was "absolutely overwhelming" to be named the winner of the 98th Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.
"As a young boy that's all I ever wanted to do and so here I am today, 50 years later, living the dream," Costa told reporters.
The 63-year-old, who's been a finalist three times previously, thanked his late mother for encouraging his artistic endeavours: "She said follow your heart, but I thought she said follow your art."
Costa's portrait of Lee - a contemporary artist and Zen Buddhist - is the first winner to feature an Asian Australian subject.
The artist said the painting gives the illusion Lee is floating.
"In a busy world full of technology and noise and everything else, and people attending meetings non-stop, diaries that are full of appointments, Lindy finds the time or makes the time to have a meeting with herself," Costa said.
Art Gallery of NSW board president David Gonski said it wasn't an easy year to pick a winner.
"There was a lively and thoughtful debate but, in the end, the judges were unanimous in their choices," he said.
Jude Rae was highly commended honour for her portrait of actor Sarah Peirse.
Among the other 50 finalists were Tessa MacKay's Packing Room prize-winning portrait of actor David Wenham, and portraits of high-profile Australians including artist Daisy Tjuparntarri Ward, musician Megan Washington, journalist Annabel Crabb and rugby league star Greg Inglis.
Indigenous artist Sylvia Ken took out the $50,000 Wynne Prize for her painting Seven Sisters and McLean Edwards won the $40,000 Sulman Prize for his work The first girl that knocked on his door.
Australian Associated Press