Walcha artist and farmer Stephen King has won Sydney’s Sculpture by the Sea prize after helping turn his town into an open-air gallery.

Story By Janene Carey

For 15 of the past 17 years, Stephen King has hoisted a huge wood-hewn work of art onto a truck in October and driven more than 400 kilometres to install it as part of Sydney’s Sculpture by the Sea. Disappointed time after time when the winners of the popular outdoor exhibition were announced, he developed the habit of ensuring a stack of jobs was waiting on the farm to distract him from the post-exhibition blues. But in 2013 this strategy backfired. His shearing and lamb-marking sessions were repeatedly interrupted by congratulatory phone calls and media-interview requests, because he’d finally cracked it, winning $60,000 in the state’s most lucrative sculpture prize.
Stephen is an artist with three decades’ worth of experience exhibiting nationally and internationally, as well as a grazier who runs 1900 merino ewes and 200 breeding cows on an 1100-hectare property near Walcha, in northern New South Wales. Some of his prize money will go into feeding drought-hungry stock, but most will be used to put more hands on the farm so he can focus on building up the income he earns from artistic commissions and sales. Currently, art pays about a quarter of the household bills, although Stephen notes somewhat ruefully that he spends more than half his time on it.
“We couldn’t survive without the farm,” he says, “but I’ve always hoped the art would be another enterprise, so the time I dedicate to it would pull its weight.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #93

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2014