Final chance to see Blue Mountains Portraits at Cultural Centre | GALLERY

This year's Blue Mountains Portraits exhibition in Katoomba features the youngest ever artist in its history, as well as a stunning collaboration between artist and subject.

And with the exhibition closing on March 7, Blue Mountains residents have less then two weeks to see the artworks themselves.

Winmalee High School student Will O'Connell created a portrait of his friend Anya Thompson during the COVID-19 lockdown last year. Working from a photograph using pencils, he estimated he spent between 15-20 hours on the portrait.

But the 13-year-old nearly missed the news he had become the youngest ever artist to be selected in the annual exhibition.

"I forgot to check my emails for a while so I only found out the day before [the exhibition opening]," he said.

O'Connell said he has always been interested in drawing but started taking it more seriously about two years ago. It was "inspiring" to see his portrait hung alongside other works in the prestigious exhibition.

"It was really great just seeing lots of really, big amazing oil paintings; it was really inspiring, and then I walked over to mine - I was happy just to see it. People were congratulating me and it was really nice," he said.

It's not the first time the artist's work has been recognised. He was a finalist in the Young Archies award last year where a portrait of his brother was hung at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Artist Sean O'Keefe took on the potentially fraught task of collaborating with the subject of his portrait - Darug man and fellow artist Chris Tobin.

"I did my bit and then I handed it over to him and he did his bit - and then we got together and sat down and had a look at it - and it was really good," said the Katooomba High School teacher.

O'Keefe said he enjoys collaborating more as he gets older but it is an approach that requires trust.

"Part of the process is that you have to let go of control and that can be pretty confronting," he said. "Chris could well have painted over the portrait I created - and I was prepared for that, even though I didn't expect it."

It helped that the pair has known each other for years, working together professionally through O'Keefe's job as a teacher at Katoomba High School.

For Wentworth Falls artist Jennifer Gabbay, having her self-portrait selected this year was the second time she has featured in the exhibition. Titled, I Stand Within the Tranquil Trees, the painting was inspired by the "importance of spirit of place and contemplation".

"My paintings begin with a layer of acrylics followed by another layer in my favourite medium, oil paint. Each painting is then finished with a gloss varnish which enhances the richness of colours," she said.

Blue Mountains Cultural Centre artistic program leader Diana Robson said the Blue Mountains Portraits exhibition is "incredibly special because of the way it celebrates not only Mountain artists and their creativity but equally as important for this exhibition are the unique and beloved characters and personalities, the portrait subjects".

"It is quite a different experience for visitors, especially those who live in our communities, when they come into the gallery and they can see so many familiar faces; a friend, a family member or someone who is simply beloved," she said.

Blue Mountains Portraits 2021 is at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre at 30 Parke Street, Katoomba until March 7