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Beyond the Bale : February March 2009
18 Welcome to Homestead, a new section showcasing the innovations and inspirations of growers closer to home. Homestead SHAPING THE LAND Combining a life of wool growing with an artistic passion is a perfect fit for this accomplished NSW sculptor By Matthew Cawood S tephen King of ‘Blackfellow’s Gully’ in Walcha, NSW, is a big man clad in workboots and grubby farm clothes, working with a well-worn chainsaw. However, there is little doubt that this farmer is different. There’s the signpost: a four-metre-high wooden pole with the farm’s name carved in bas-relief down its length. There’s the house, with a verandah roof supported by carved figures. And there’s the garden, dotted with unfinished monuments. Down the hill, near the shearing shed, is a second shed; the surrounding area sprouting timber and steel. This, it transpires, is the burly farmer’s sculpting studio. While farming earns Stephen a steady living, it also allows him to follow his passion for sculpture. The two occupations have gone hand- in-hand since he stepped aside from his Walcha farming lineage to study printmaking at Sydney College of the Arts in the mid-1970s. He worked on ‘Waterloo’, the family farm, to maintain cashflow during his holidays, giving his father hope that his son might shake his ‘arty’ obsessions. “The old man gave me more and more responsibility to help me get over it,” Stephen says. “It was kind of him, but I was too busy looking for bits of wood to ever be very responsible.” His resolve to be an artist firmed during postgraduate printmaking studies at the English art academy St Martin’s School of Art. Afterwards, Stephen found himself with a choice of living in the city and labouring to support his art, or doing the same thing on the farm. The farm won. He took over ‘Blackfellow’s Gully’ when it was split from ‘Waterloo’. The property now runs about 450 cows and 4,000 Merinos in a “pretty rough” cell-grazing system designed for minimal management. His Merino breeding program is also working toward hands-off production. “I want to produce big-framed, worm-resistant, easy-care sheep,” Stephen says. “I’m happy with the wool I’m producing – I’m cutting an average of 3.8-kilogram, 16.9-micron fleece from the ewes, and put together a 13.7-micron bale from the hoggets this year – but I want to take that easy-care aspect a bit further.” While he genuinely enjoys farming, Stephen says he is often happiest when sculpting in his studio. These two working lives intersect in productive ways. Looking around his well-ordered workshop, he can point to the influences that life on the land has had on his work. There is sculpture themed on broad beans and others on DNA. There are ideas taken from spores and seed pods and natural forms. Outside there is a complex setup of gracefully carved logs that reflects his latest obsession: the flowforms used by biodynamic farmers to “energise” their preparations. Most use flowforms made from fibreglass or concrete. Stephen carved his various interpretations from local stringybark logs using chainsaws and an Arbortech power chisel. “I like the idea of a flowform being a machine, but a sculpture at the same time,” he says. Over the years, the balance of his earnings from farming and art has shifted progressively in art’s favour. Stephen set out as an artist with two modest ambitions: to be represented in a good Sydney gallery, and to support his family solely on art by the time he was 50. The first ambition came easily. The first gallery he visited, run by the New England Regional Art Museum’s late benefactor Chandler Coventry, accepted him immediately and has shown his work ever since. “I haven’t quite got to a point where I can support myself on art, but I’ve got a few months to go before I’m 51. Maybe it will still happen,” Stephen says. “I’m very lucky. I’ve been able to live in a nice spot and follow a whim. I hope I can just keep on producing the work, and see where the journey takes me.” Walcha sculptor Stephen King putting the finishing touches to a piece. Stephen King worked on the family farm, ‘Waterloo’, to maintain cashflow during his holidays, giving his father hope that his son might shake his ‘arty’ obsessions. ? February – March 2009 BEYOND THE BALE PHOTOS: MATTHEWCAWOOD
Dec 08 - Jan 09
April May 2009