Law graduate and art fan Wee Teng Woon was guest of honour at an awards night established in his name.
Mr Woon, who studied at Newcastle Polytechnic – now Northumbria University – in the 1970s, presented a £20,000 bursary to Holly Hendry who recently graduated from the Slade School of Art in London.
The Singapore-based lawyer and art collector offered £40,000 a year to inaugurate a new series of valuable prizes to encourage final year art students across the country.
He said when the awards were announced: “I received my education in Newcastle and I see this as a gift back.
“I hope it will help spot new, talented students and help nurture them.
“It is different to the Turner Prize in that the Turner Prize is only open to British people. This is open to any student who is studying in the UK, regardless of their nationality.”
Ten artists were shortlisted and Holly’s work found favour with the judging panel chaired by Christine Borland, Northumbria University’s Baltic professor.
Holly did a foundation course in art and design in Farnham, Surrey, before going on to study at the Slade.
She won the main prize, the Woon Tai Jee Fellowship, for an installation called R:255 G:145 B:175 which is described as consisting of latex, air, aluminium, European oak, aluminium ducting, fan and bolts.
In photographs it looks like a large pink balloon transforming the roof space of a grand building.
In a statement with her competition entry Holly explained: “My practice deals with the confines of space, treating our environment as a framework and springboard from which to project my own ideas and hopefully ignite other people’s thoughts and imaginations.”
She said winning the £20,000 bursary would provide her with “the structure and support to establish a place in the competitive and daunting art world, opening up an exciting opportunity for discussions with a new and diverse range of individuals as well as the chance to live and work in a new city”.
The bursary will enable Holly to spend the next academic year in Newcastle, based in a studio at the Baltic 39 art complex on High Bridge.
Mr Woon, who initiated the series of art prizes in memory of family members, also presented other awards.
Benjamin Lee, a graduate of Central St Martins in London, won the Lim Ai Fang Art Prize, worth £9,000, and Ewan Murray, from Glasgow School of Art, won the £6,000 Cheong Kam Hee Art Prize.
The judges also awarded discretionary prizes to Bahia Haddam (£2,000) and also to Catriona Meighan, Rebecca Moss and Elysia Byrd (£1,000 each).
Northumbria University will host the prize each year. The application process for the 2013-14 prize will be launched on October 1.