‘Discordant’: Unauthorized renovation of chapel puts Spanish artist in trouble | Spain
For more than six centuries, the austere interior of the Chapel of Sant Cristòfol has welcomed weary hikers as they weave their way through the mountains near Spain’s Costa Blanca.
That was, at least, until “intense” inspiration hit Jesús Cees, who decided to transform the white walls of the secluded chapel with a riot of vivid murals that the artist describes as one of his best works.
Not everyone was so impressed: regional officials debate whether to fine him for painting a protected heritage site without permission, while Spanish media were quick to compare the chapel renovation to restoration sloppy from “Monkey Christ”.
Cees had long toyed with the idea of splashing color across the site. Four years ago he broached the idea with officials in Alcoy, the town overseeing the chapel, as it is no longer used for religious purposes.
“They told me not to touch it; they banned me,” Cees said. The 53-year-old tried to put the idea aside, but the chapel’s white walls haunted him. “The inspiration was intense…I decided to do it and ask for forgiveness later.”
It was a strategy that had worked before. Eight years earlier, Cees had painted a colourful, yellow-eyed version of the chapel’s namesake saint – “I did it in my style, you know”, he said – in order to cover up a patch of graffiti scrawled in the entry.
His latest overhaul began in the summer of 2020. Almost every day he would rise at dawn, spending hours hiking to and from the chapel in the Sierra de Mariola mountains.
Its unauthorized revision was made public earlier this month after the city asked the regional government of Valencia to look into the matter, potentially paving the way for fines or the painting of the chapel.
The municipality of Alcoy confirmed that it had rejected an earlier proposal by Cees to paint the chapel, calling the artist’s plans “discordant” with its Gothic style and its status as a protected building. “Without denigrating the [artist’s] work, it is anachronistic and could affect the original pigments,” he said in a statement.
Cees said he was surprised at the city’s reaction to his efforts. “Which is better? Like now or when the walls were empty?” He asked. “It didn’t cost them a penny. What more do they want?”
He dismissed any association between his work and that of the devout parishioner who sought to restore the peeling Ecce Homo paint in a church in northeast Spain in 2012. “You can’t compare them. I took a blank space, she restored a small fresco,” he says.
He was forced to stop his project four months after falling from a ladder while trying to paint the ceiling. Cees hit the stone floor of the chapel, breaking both wrists.
Once fully recovered, he was determined to return to the site. “My plan is to finish painting the whole chapel, hopefully this summer,” he said. “Because what I start, I finish.”