Abstract Art? – The Rock Paintings of Carschenna

High above the village of Sils in the Domleschg valley, on a wooded mountain ridge between the Schin and Viamala gorges, curious rock paintings can be found. They are reminiscent of the beginnings of the abstraction of art or abstract art. The problem: abstract art began in the early 1900s with artists such as Wassily Kandinsky or Kazimir Malevich, greats such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró also painted in an abstracting fashion. However, the rock paintings, located close to the Carschenna Maiensäss (a lower-level alp with huts and stables), are well over 2000 years old. They probably date from the Iron or the Bronze Age.

The artists of Carschenna are not known by name. And it is also hard to say whether the rock paintings are in fact abstract. What is clear is that the most prevalent motif is the circle. And there are also wavy lines, rays, nets and what looks like a wheel of rays. Actually, these motifs were not really painted onto the rock: they were created by delicately removing part of the rock surface by picking.

If the rock paintings cannot be categorised as modern abstract art, do they perhaps have an ancient cultic meaning? That is quite possible, given that there are also some figurative motifs. Animals, for instance, even ones with loads or riders on their backs. The abstract forms and the depictions of animals are cer-tainly related to the everyday lives of the people of the time. And perhaps they are also connected to the nearby Viamala Gorge as an access point to the Splügen and San Bernardino Alpine passes, which have been traversed for thousands of years...

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