Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Stephen King,

Bal­anc­ing the Books (2009). Collection Tam­worth Re­gional Gallery. On dis­play at the gallery, Tam­worth, NSW. FOR 15 years, Stephen King has ex­hib­ited in Syd­ney’s Sculp­ture by the Sea, and al­ways been hope­ful that he might be ac­knowl­edged with the top prize. Fi­nally, last year he won and was awarded the hand­some sum of $60,000.

For King, the win was an en­dorse­ment of his sculp­tural work, which he com­bines with run­ning a 1200ha farm at Walcha in north­ern NSW. Liv­ing on the farm is cru­cial to his artis­tic prac­tice. Not only does the land in­flu­ence his choice of sub­jects, but he also uses fallen trees from his property to cre­ate his sculp­tures.

His sculp­tures dot the land­scape. For starters, his town of Walcha is known for its Open Air Gallery, and King’s home pad­dock is it­self like a sculp­ture park. One sculp­ture in par­tic­u­lar stands 10m high and con­sists of life-sized fig­ures crouch­ing one on the other. It ad­dresses the is­sue of how each gen­er­a­tion sup­ports the next. An­other mon­u­men­tal work refers to the jug­gling act of big busi­ness and cli­mate change.

King, who was born in 1958, orig­i­nally stud­ied print­mak­ing at the Syd­ney Col­lege of the Arts. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he moved to Lon­don for post­grad­u­ate study at St Martin’s School of Arts. On his re­turn, he switched from linocuts to sculp­ture.

He is best known for his up­right col­umns of fig­ures that have been sculpted from a sin­gle tree trunk us­ing a chainsaw. In­creas­ingly, how­ever, he is work­ing on non-fig­u­ra­tive con­struc­tions, such as Fall­out, which won last year’s Sculp­ture by the Sea.

One of King’s fig­u­ra­tive pieces is on semi-per­ma­nent dis­play in the en­trance foyer of the Tam­worth Re­gional Gallery. In ad­di­tion, the gallery is hold­ing a sur­vey show of King’s work un­til June 21. The show then tours to other re­gional NSW gal­leries in Dubbo and Mait­land.

When I visit Tam­worth, I’m shown Bal­anc­ing the Books by the gallery’s ex­hi­bi­tions and col­lec­tions of­fi­cer, Pam Brown. “It is well pro­por­tioned and en­tices the viewer from ev­ery an­gle,” says Brown. Made from Aus­tralian cedar and stringy bark and stand­ing 3.3m high, Bal­anc­ing the Books was in­spired by the GFC.

A small fig­ure stands pre­car­i­ously on a wooden ledge, which is bal­anced on two wooden up­rights. He is hold­ing a tall stack of books that is threat­en­ing to top­ple and fall. It is ev­i­dent that the artist uses hu­mour and sto­ry­telling to ad­dress more se­ri­ous is­sues.

Stephen King: sculp­ture

is at the Tam­worth Re­gional Gallery un­til June 21. It then tours to Western Plains Cul­tural Cen­tre, Dubbo, from June 28 to Au­gust 24, and Mait­land Re­gional Art Gallery next year.

Aus­tralian cedar and stringy bark; 3.3m high x 30cm wide x 35cm deep.

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