MABERLY, NL — Artist Will Gill says he only hoped his artwork “The Green Chair” would make people think and be happy.
And now that the project has essentially run its course, he’s glad it made an impact on the Maberly and Elliston area.
The solitary aquamarine kitchen chair, mounted to the rocks off Maberly and facing the crushing and swirling waves in defiance, was a commission piece for last summer’s Bonavista Biennale.
The artist, Will Gill, told the Packet the idea was for it to remain on the shore until it eventually met its end due to the elements. Nevertheless, when he found out it had finally broken it was a little bit of a shock, but he also found beauty in its current state as well.
While the chair was constructed from steel and cemented into the rock — and it has survived near-hurricane force waves and wind and icy spray this winter — its back finally broke this week when sea ice cracked it in two.
“I think it’s kind of a fitting end for it, actually,” says Gill. As he was told by many, he expected the hundreds of pounds of pressure from the sea ice would be the end of the chair.
“There’s no stopping that,” said Gill with a wry chuckle.
The St. John’s-based artist explained he was asked by biennale organizers to create an outdoor work for the event.
“I always wanted to make a piece that was interactive in a way … I was thinking years ago I would love to make a work that somehow is out in nature and could interact with nature.”
He says the chair, while stationary, is also fluid as the waves created a moving addition to the art in a type of “collaboration.”
He adds he wanted to invoke some poetic message, as the chair represents something fragile and vulnerable but also strong in withstanding the brunt of the ocean.
“It really was a piece that spoke about this place and the people and the nature of living on the island and trying to be resilient to the climate and surroundings.”
Gill says he discovered a simple, classic, kitchen chair at his friend Rose Smart’s house and had a fabricator, Compass Manufacturing in Fox Trap, create an exact steel replica, turned on a lathe like wood and welded together.
He says he chose the shade of green for its powder coat because it’s a “comfort” colour that reminds him of a home.
The final product weighed a solid 130-pounds.
To install, he employed the help of local fisherman Ivan Russell and assistant Flo Nitzinger this past August. After weighing their options, they decided to lower the chair in a crate over the cliff. They then used a small boat to get around and drilled it into place on the rocks. They were in a literal race against the clock as the tides came in and washed over their feet.
Over the next few days, hurricane-like weather pounded the chair, christening the newly installed piece just in time for the Biennale.
Since this past summer, Gill says he’s gotten a fair bit of positive feedback and hopes people who saw the installation interpreted it their own way.
“Someone asked an old-timer in the Town of Elliston what he thought about it, and he said, ‘Well, I have really no idea what it’s about but I just like looking at it.’ For me, that was good enough.”
The chair has its own Instagram page – “willgillthegreenchair” – which chronicles the piece, including people’s submitted images.
Gill expects the remains will be retrieved once the ice clears this spring.
While he says he’s a little sad to see it go, he’s happy it was well-received while it was there, and he confirmed that there won’t be another “Green Chair.”
Who is the artist?
According to the 2017 Bonavista Biennale website, Will Gill’s practice spans photography, painting, sculpture and live-action work.
In addition to the “Green Chair,” paintings from Gill’s “Fires in the Desert” work were featured at the Factory Building in Port Union during the biennale.
Gill was born in Ottawa and trained as an artist at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. After living in Halifax for years, Gill moved to St. John’s in 1997, working as an apprentice in a bronze-casting foundry.
He was selected to the national longlist in the Sobey Art Awards in both 2004 and 2006, which recognizes contemporary artists under 40 years old.
His work is handled exclusively through the Christina Parker Gallery in St. John’s.