Robbie Bushe, who studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art in the 1980s, now runs short courses in the city for students in art and design.
However Bushe, who has combined lecturing with work as a figurative artist, is celebrating after his painting was selected from more than 430 entries to claim what has become the nation’s most lucrative art prize.
He was named the inaugural winner of the W Gordon Smith Award, which was set up in memory of the much-loved art critic from Scotland on Sunday, sister paper to The Scotsman.
The £10,000 has been launched to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Smith, who started his career as a newspaper journalist, then became a pioneering maker of TV documentaries about the arts, as well as a leading playwright.
Bushe, 51, who still teaches, revealed he had been inspired to enter after receiving early encouragement in his career from three separate reviews by Smith.
• READ MORE: Introducing the W Gordon Smith Award
His award was presented by leading stage and screen actress Maureen Beattie at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, where the 50-strong shortlisted entries will be on display until 30 January.
The ceremony also saw two £2500 runners-up prizes awarded to another Edinburgh College of art graduate, landscape artist Calum McClure, a previous winner of the Jolomo Award, and Samantha Wilson, a recent graduate from Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, who specialises in large charcoal drawings and oil paintings.
The W Gordon Smith Award was open to all artists living and working in Scotland, as well as Scots working in the rest of the UK and overseas.
The judging panel - art critic Susan Mansfield, Sandy Moffat, former head of painting and printmaking at Glasgow School of Art, Tom Wilson, former director of Edinburgh’s Open Eye Gallery, and the artist and sculptor Margaret Hunter - spent two days locked in debate before deciding on the winners.
Bushe, who was born in Liverpool and brought up in Aberdeenshire, has been living in work in Edinburgh since 2007 after returning to the art school following spells teaching and painting in Aberdeen, Chichester, Kent and Oxford. He draws inspiration from the “characters and the places” where he has lived and worked.
His winning entry, The Admissions Gate, is said to represent some the growing barriers artists faced, particularly when trying to learn their craft.
He said: “I’ve been involved in the arts and arts education for a long time. The painting is really all about people being denied access to doing stuff. The painters behind the wall are not allowed in any more.
“W Gordon Smith actually reviewed one of my shows when I was a student. He we incredibly supportive, although I never got the chance to meet him, but then his name came up again with the competition.
“I must have been one of the first people to enter. This picture was already done, so I just put in and forgot about it. I’m a full-time lecturer now, so I only have time to make 10 or 12 paintings a year.”
Moffat described Bushe’s winning entry as “a visionary composition.”
He added: “The real strength about it is its inventiveness. It is obvious the artist has had a vision, deep down, of what he wants to paint. It feels like a personal painting from someone who has lived a lot.
“It’s almost like it’s about life’s struggle. It’s full of ideas, it’s a real painting with lots of figures and it’s very inventive. It has all the hallmaks of a special painting.”
Hunter added: “It’s really interesting that there are no gaps in the picture, it is totally filled. It is an enigmatic painting.
“There are definitely layers of meaning. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t one of the entries that drew me immediately, but I became persuaded by it. The more I looked at it, the more I could see in it.”
Wilson said: “For me, there is an intriguing sense of narrative about the picture. It is compelling - you want to discover what it is all about. The use of imagination is superb.”