Melbourne - Australian collector Helen Round may not know much about art, but as an aficionado of bad paintings she knows what she doesn't like.
Round constantly scours auctions and car boot sales for the tacky, the weird and the downright ugly to add to her Museum of Particularly Bad Art in the southern Australian city of Melbourne.
Located at the back of Round's bric-a-brac shop in the city's trendy Chapel Street district, the museum provides a home for the paintings that the mainstream art world shuns.
Misshapen renderings of celebrities such as Princess Diana, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley gaze down from the walls with poorly-painted eyes more likely to scare the viewer from the room than follow them around it.
Round, whose own career as an artist never took off due to a self-confessed lack of talent, said her museum celebrated "the little guy".
"People paint about what they're passionate about, whether they're talented or not," she said.
"What I'm looking for is something totally devoid of technical skill that had nevertheless been produced with real passion, even if other people may view it as kitsch, inane or tasteless."
Her collection of bad paintings began in 1999 when she was given a portrait of former "Happy Days" star Scott Baio wearing a chest-exposing pirate shirt.
Since then, she has amassed more than 400 works and for the past four years has staged the "Itchyball Prize" for bad art, a play on the Archibald Prize, Australia's top award for portrait painting.
"People gave me pieces and I hung them in the back of the shop, then all of a sudden I realised that I had quite a collection and I wanted to share them with people," she said.
"I had my first exhibition in 1999 and it went really well. It's just gone on from there.
"The whole community gets behind it, people just love the spirit of it."
Round said she received about 50 Itchyball entries a year and the event raised thousands of dollars for local charities.
She said many people had some bad artwork lurking in the attic and the prize gave them a chance to dust it off and display it to the world.
"Everyone has a piece they remember they did, but they usually left them at high school," she said.
"Or there's a piece 'round at their mother-in-law's that they secretly snigger about.
"By entering it in the Itchyball, they know that a discerning crowd will view it sipping a glass of chardonnay and get to appreciate how truly dreadful it is."
Past winners include last year's "Conan, the barbed Aryan," which features a naked warrior carrying a bikini-clad woman whose unnaturally-long arm has been strategically placed to protect his modesty.
That work was found thrown out on the street by a local fireman who thought it worthy of entering and won two thousand dollars in shopping vouchers for his efforts.
Round said people were allowed to enter found paintings that were not their own work, although the competition had now become so popular that many works were produced especially for the event.
One such work was the 2006 winner Last Gasp Grannie, depicting an overwieght elderly woman smoking, with real hairs from the painting's subject stuck onto the back of her hands.
Round said it would be difficult for the 2008 entries, which will be on display from October 3-12, to match the awfulness of previous years, but bad art could always plumb new depths.
"We aim to disappoint and I think we do that very well," she said. - AFP