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.