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Marta Mazzacano, May 31 2019

Outside the doors of the deconsecrated chapel, the hills of the surrounding Langhe region contrast with the work found inside: abstract geometric shapes by David Tremlett, juxtaposed with the four-hundred-year-old San Maurizio monastery. The artist explains, “I use pigments — I break apart pieces of chalk, and use the fragments to coat the walls using a combination of hand-applied techniques. Once the background is uniform and extends out to the borders marked with masking tape, I use a fixative spray.”

The permanent work, “Wall Drawing in Pastel” is the product of a collaboration between the artist and the Noire Gallery, Torino. It was created in the chapel of San Maurizio in Santo Stefano Belbo. The work concludes a project identified as the Langhe Triangle (Triangolo delle Langhe), which also includes the Barolo Chapel project designed with Sol Lewitt in 1999; and the “Chiesetta” among the vineyards in Coazzolo in 2017. The artist observes, “In the prior two cases we were working on exterior façades subject to weathering [so] I had to use different techniques.”

The San Maurizio chapel presents vaulted ceilings and stone floors on which are carved the dates of the chapel’s foundation. Here, Tremlett has dreamed up abstract geometric forms divided into two portions: one more earthy and material, and the other, towards the ceiling, in paler, more ethereal shades. The shades on the floor are in dialogue with the frescoes on the ceiling. Tremlett credits this color evolution to his frequent trips to Italy: “I was surrounded by the frescoes of Giotto, Piero della Francesca, and Mantegna. I wanted to change my way of drawing.” This yielded geometric designs — rectangles, trapezoids, circles and triangles.

David Tremlett is originally from Cornwall and an honorary citizen of the comune of La Morra. He is a nomad who transforms his varied travel experiences into work. Inspiration comes to him from “African shapes, Italian churches, people — this is my cultural baggage. It’s like composing music or writing, at a certain point something transports you. I do not create work by accumulation. I do the opposite. I pare down the wall drawings until they get to the point where I can say, They’re done.” 

In Italy, Tremlett has principally created work for private interiors, but some of his works are visible to the public, such as: the courtyard of the Monumental Complex of Santa Chiara and San Francesco della Scarpa, in Bari; the wall decorations on the Fondaco building in Portofino; and the Castelbosco dairy building, among others. One of his latest works may be seen in Ghizzano, a town of 350 inhabitants which is part of the comune of Peccioli, in the province of Pisa. There, Mayor Renzo Macelloni invited Tremlett to become involved in the redevelopment of the town, which was in a state of neglect and lacking a gathering space.

Tremlett painted the façades of the buildings on Via di Mezzo in shades of green, dark red, mustard yellow, and blue. The inhabitants no longer recognize the street — they are photographed in their windows and wind up in the newspaper. The project, which aimed to generate residents’ interest in the public art initiative, sparked a debate among the building owners. This cultural strategy first began in the region in the late 1990’s. When Tremlett accepts a project, the area respects him.

In 1619, the Cistercian monks climbed the Via del Sale, which they traveled to transport sacks of Ligurian salt to towns on the other side of the Alps. From Provence, they reached the Langhe region and chose it as the site of a monastery to be built on the remains of a chapel that had been built a century before their arrival. The microclimate of the area favored, in addition to olives and ancient cedars, the cultivation of aromatic herbs, spices, and medicinal plants. In 1862, the monastery was acquired by the counts of Incisa, the southern Piedmontese family who owned it until 1997. That year, the mayor of Santo Stefano Belbo — following a collapse in the chapel and fearing the structure could wind up abandoned — asked financial consultant Pier Domenico Gallo to intervene in order to safeguard the artistic heritage of the territory.

In 2002, following a four year restoration and conservation period, the Relais San Maurizio was born. Ancient monastery and noble dwelling now coexist, constituting the first Relais & Châteaux in Piedmont, including an award-winning restaurant under the direction of Guido da Costigliole. Guests stay in refurbished monks cells. The property aspires to plastic-free operations: all dispensers in the kitchen and all water bottles are glass, and the toiletry line is packaged in certified Eco Green containers. The herbs cultivated in the greenhouse are used in the spa and in cosmetics production. The therapy pools are filled with water high in saline, magnesium, and mineral salts.

“We collect the water from a small lake in Sardinia which is the only one in Italy that possesses this density of salt and magnesium, which is recommended for thalassotherapy,” says Pier Domenico Gallo, the president of San Maurizio SPA. The Lebanese cedar in the garden is over five hundred years old, and Giuditta Gallo, Pier Domenico’s daughter, explains, “It was bartered for in the seventeenth century by the monks themselves. They exchanged local grapevines for the tree. It is considered a tree that is full of energy, and for this reason we organize yoga retreats, and our guests come to the tree on their own, to recharge.” The bees on the property produce acacia honey with a floral aroma — the conservation of the ecosystem makes it possible to reintroduce beehives in the spaces that surround the structure.

The drinking water served to guests comes from an aquifer 200 meters deep, while the water used for irrigation is obtained using a patented purification system developed at the University of Turin, which optimizes the scarce water resources of the hillside. In order to reduce carbon emissions, the heating and cooling systems of the hotel are powered by a system that produces electricity and heat using wood chips.

The skinfood line is based on the Mediterranean diet: creams, oils, serums, masks and scrubs are formulated using natural ingredients from Piedmont and from Italy, including hazelnut, Barolo grapes, truffles, olive oil, squash, sage, pomegranate, lavender, and white orchid from the Bormida Valley. These are known as psychocosmetics – cosmetics that are produced without artificial colors or preservatives, using scents that are hypoallergenic.

Translated from the Original Italian by Deborah Wassertzug

Relais San Maurizio

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