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Piercing eyes of Adut win public's pick

AAP logoAAP 21/09/2016 Simone Ziaziaris

Every scar on former child soldier Deng Adut's face tells a story.

So to do justice to his remarkable tale Sydney-based artist Nick Stathopoulos spent four and a half months laboriously painting the Sudanese refugee and lawyer's strong and powerful face.

The result is a hyper-real 1.30m-square portrait with piercing eyes that has captured the audience at the Art Gallery of NSW by taking out the Archibald's People's Choice award on Wednesday.

"It must be some sort of magic, but Nick really captured what's underneath my skin in his painting," said Adut, who has inspired people with his journey from war-torn Sudan to refugee lawyer in Sydney.

"Not bad for a couple of Blacktown boys," said Mr Stathopoulos, who first contacted Adut after seeing his starring role in an advertisement for Western Sydney University.

The five-time Archibald finalist said it is the longest he's ever spent on a painting.

"Once you get to that size there is nowhere to hide and I wanted to show all of those delicate scars Deng has on his forehead," he told AAP on Wednesday.

"There is an incredible back story."

While the artist's biggest challenge was depicting the stories of each scar, it's his eyes that viewers found so mesmerising.

"I always paint the eyes from life so they were painted exactly how I saw them on the day - I think that gives the painting that little bit of extra spirit and you can see something is going on behind them."

At the age of two, Adut had nerves on his forehead cut, a traditional procedure to prevent blindness from the poison of the tsetse fly.

A scar on his left cheek is from his military days, when caught in the vicious grip of Sudanese thorn trees.

"That photo of me is me just trying to get by," he said.

Conscripted into the Sudanese army at the age of six, Adut held his first gun just three years later.

Deng Adut (2R) with artist Nick Stathopoulos © Provided by AAP Deng Adut (2R) with artist Nick Stathopoulos

"I have a million things in my head so I have to deal with it, with my own depression, my own post traumatic stress disorder, my work and other aspects of life."

The People's Choice award comes with a $3,500 cash prize but the artist said Deng's appreciation was the ultimate reward.

"Deng gave a speech and in the speech he said 'when I look at the painting, when I look at my eyes, when I look at the scars I realise that my life is in that painting' - it just doesn't get better than that for an artist."

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