David Tremlett: Three chapels in Rossa

David Tremlett
Wall drawings
Three historic chapels*, dating from the 17th century and located here, have had their exteriors painted by the Anglo-Swiss artist, after restoration work aimed at preserving the continuity of their original functions, thanks to donations from public and private bodies.

Three chapels by David Tremlett in Calanca Valley, Switzerland
THEMA rivista dei beni culturali ecclesiastici 10/20, Centro studi Architettura e Liturgia
by Andrea Jasci Cimini

Surrounded by the up to 3,000 m high mountains of the Adula Alps, Val Calanca is one of the Italian-speaking areas of Canton Graub√ľnden. Composed of five municipalities, it has a total population of less than a thousand inhabitants. This small community, in recent years, has distinguished itself on the international scene for its innovative activities of valorisation of the landscape, historical and cultural heritage.
Rossa, the highest village in the valley, started in 2012 a process of restoration of the ancient agricultural terraces and the ancient settlement of the Scata area. This allowed the construction of an overview of the vestiges of what was a 16th century alpine settlement. At the same time, a particular artistic ferment has allowed a small mountain village to become an important destination in the world of contemporary art.
On July 14, 2019, on the occasion of the feast of the Carmine, on the initiative of the RossArte Foundation and with the unanimous consent of the parish assembly, three works were inaugurated that are part of the research path "wall drawings" of the Swiss-English artist David Tremlett. This is an artistic intervention on the external facades of the Chapel of San Carlo al Sabbione, the Chapel of the Graces and the Chapel of Santa Maria Maddalena al Calvario. An operation based on the superimposition of shapes and colors on built architecture. Two-dimensional drawings that, according to Tremlett, once on the walls, become sculptures.
They are obviously site-specific works tailored to each individual chapel. Interesting in this sense are the preparatory drawings and working drafts that see all the facades side by side, thought of as a ribbon that wraps around the building. At the time of the preparation of these sketches, the chapels were already covered with a simple light-coloured plaster. The work of painting by the artist was preceded by a preparatory work of restoration of the plaster which took place in several stages over time.
The visit to the three chapels can be thought of as an itinerary that starts from the Chapel of San Carlo al Sabbione. Built in 1686, it is inserted in the proximity of the historical nucleus and it is part, as the other two chapels, of that sacred architecture unjustly defined minor, born from the faith and from the popular will.
The artist applies on this sacred building horizontal bands of pastel colour, surmounted by a vermilion motif that acts as a base for vertical bands that reach the roof.
Passing through the recently renewed area of the vestiges of the inhabited area and the terraces of the Scata area, we arrive at the Chapel of the Graces, built in 1702. The uphill path allows to widen the view of the village and the valley, making the journey to the chapels also a journey of discovery of the territory. This chapel is located in a dominant position over the village and conceptually represents the closure of the inhabited part of the valley. The work is composed of geometric motifs made with warm colours, superimposed on an amaranth and green base.
Continuing the ascent, we reach the smallest chapel, that of Santa Maria Maddalena al Calvario, 1696. The artist has chosen a very intense red, interspersed with grey and black geometries.
The RossArte foundation, with the help of private individuals and associations, has also intervened by redoing the traditional roofing in poplar.
The interiors are very simple with limited decorations and like those of the other chapels will be subject to restoration in the coming years. The opportunity to intervene in such a characterizing way on buildings and historical testimonies is certainly a delicate issue that must be carefully pondered in relation to each specific situation, with due caution to preserve and not to irreparably alter the work. The artistic intervention on the chapels in Rossa is certainly bold and daring, but it allows a clear recognizability of the contemporary parts with respect to the historical ones and it is also possibly reversible if we consider the external finish of these specific buildings, and in particular the painting, as a perennially changing and renewable layer of wear. Leaving open the debate on the appropriateness and modalities of contemporary artistic operations on historic buildings, Rossa's case allows us to reflect on the ability of colour to radically alter the perception of an architectural object and renews the act of drawing on the wall that is one of the foundational actions of art and sacred art. Tremlett's work has represented an important experience for the population of the valley that has actively followed the phases of realization and has become aware of how contemporary art can enrich the identity of a wonderful territory that needs to be told in order not to fall into oblivion. The town of Rossa is the last village in the valley; it is not a place of passage, but it is necessarily a destination. The presence of important works of international artists surely stimulates tourism and opens new perspectives to people who decide to stay and live in the village.