Two empty trays

Brian Hunter's painting, Two empty trays mounted vertically, has won him the $25,000 grand prize in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition. (CNW Group/RBC)

The Winnipeg artist who received a prestigious art prize Wednesday said he's "totally stunned" by the win, after telling himself his work was too conservative to catch judges' eyes.

Brian Hunter was chosen as the national winner of the 18th annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition for his oil painting, Two empty trays mounted vertically. The $25,000 award was announced Wednesday by the RBC and the Canadian Art Foundation.

"I didn't think it was ever really going to happen," Hunter said. "I didn't know the body of work that I submitted was something, maybe, contemporary enough or flashy enough. I thought my work might have been a bit more reserved."

Apparently, judges disagreed.

"Hunter's sophisticated work struck the jury as being both immediate and deeply considered, straddling a bridge between abstraction and representation in a compelling and seemingly effortless way," a press release stated.

Hunter said his winning painting is part of a series centred on letterpress boxes he's been working on for around two years, inspired by the way his wife's grandmother displayed trinkets and family memorabilia.

"I was just kind of exploring memory and sort of sentimentality," he said. "I really liked how when I made these pictures of boxes, it kind of also referenced modernism, which is a bit cold and intimidating, and then, by making it a very personal object — there was this in between I wanted to explore."

Balancing his art with a part-time job, Hunter said the prize and the cash it comes with will open the door for him to devote more time to creating.

"It'll really help me out a lot, with sort of being able to consistently paint and not worry so much about the extra expenses," Hunter said. "It'll really, sort of, give me a big push to make a lot of new artworks in the next year or so."

"I was really blown away," Hunter said of his win. "I'm very, very happy with how things went."

Schnell Schnell 17

Schnell Schnell 17 by Nika Fontaine earned an honourable mention. (CNW Group/RBC)

Two honourable mentions were given, one to Nika Fontaine of Montreal for her work, Schnell Schnell 17, and Cameron Forbes of Saskatoon for her work, Maritime Plaza Hotel, Window Set 2. Fontaine and Forbes were each awarded a prize of $15,000 for their works.

Maritime Plaza Hotel, Window Set 2

Cameron Forbes' Maritime Plaza Hotel, Window Set 2 won an honourable mention. (CNW Group/RBC)

The winning artworks will be added to the RBC corporate collection.

The competition is open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada who are in the early stages of their artistic career.

More than 560 artists submitted works for this year's competition, from which 15 finalists were shortlisted.