Andrea Röthlin

Painting with Gold

In her largest creation so far, Andrea Röthlin combined two metals that couldn’t be any more different: gold leaf and the clumsy, slightly convex bottom of a disused oil tank. Measuring almost 170 cm in diameter, it weighs no less than half a ton. Röthlin found it behind a stable in the Obwalden canton and had it transported by a crane to a gallery located on nearby Lake Sarnen.


Andrea Röthlin’s workshop in Kerns near the Vierwaldstätter lake

The town of Sarnen served not only as the locale for an exhibition, but was also the place where an ordinary, industrially manufactured product was transformed into a work of art.

Röthlin carefully took the leaves of wafer-thin gold, measuring eight by eight centimeters, out of the package and placed them one after another on the steel bowl until it was covered completely. In contrast to what would have been customary, i.e. leveling out protruding bits of gold foil or those that extend beyond the object’s edges so as to create an evenly gilt surface, she deliberately left them as they were, thus making for a charming effect: the protruding “surplus” is set in motion by the slightest draft in the room and starts glittering and dancing in dreamlike splendor. “For me, it looks as if golden lava erupted from the Sachseln Mountains and has created a mountain lake whose surface is rippling in a warm breeze,” the eulogist said when he opened the exhibition in 2012.


By now, the gold leaf object no longer sits on the ground as it did in the gallery, but hangs suspended in the entrance area of a metalworking company in Sarnen. “The delicate gold foil edges suffered during the duration of the exhibition and due to being transported here. Some of them even came off. This is why the buyer and I agreed on re-gilding the bowl in the same manner,” Röthlin comments. The protruding edges are indeed stirred quite severely when somebody walks through the door next to it. Both the artist and the owner are aware of the fact that even in this place, they probably won’t last forever. “Last but not least, however, it’s the change and the evanescence involved that contribute to the charm of this piece,” she explains.

The surroundings in which Röthlin lives and works are almost as disparate as raw steel and precious gold. A few weeks ago, she and her husband, a doctor of naturopathy, moved into an avant-garde house made of wood and concrete, overlooking Sarnen and located a few steep curves above her native village of Kerns. With cats roaming around and chickens clucking in the neighborhood, malicious tongues may say that it is a foreign body in this little farming hamlet. But they needed something new and opted for something modern, Röthlin explains. Their former house at the same place was 400 years old and beyond repair. The minimalist interior of their new home also accommodates abundant testimony to the Röthlins’ love for detail: cast-iron and earthen teapots in various sizes and crafted in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea, as well as a small golden Buddha, are displayed on the window sill. Röthlin takes one in her hand and explains: “Everything started with little figurines like this. I lived for four years in a meditation center near San Francisco, where I painstakingly learned the craft and gilded countless Buddhas.”


Golden bowl Sarnersee. Bottom of a tank, gold foil.

Originally a trained nurse, Andrea Röthlin is convinced that “nursing and caring for prematurely born children taught me to be cautious. These small creatures sharpened my sensitivity and perceptiveness.” She learned her artistic skills at a design academy in Lucerne, as well as in various ateliers. Since 1999, she has been working freelance with a focus on painting. Her ceramic bowls painted on the reverse with colored ink can be interpreted as planets. For more than ten years now, this 46-year-old artist has regularly exhibited her pieces, several of which were purchased by the Obwalden canton.

Andrea Röthlin’s atelier has been integrated in the new house. She is enthusiastic about the room, painted in a dark color and fitted with huge panorama windows – like a cave with a view of the vast scenery. In this atelier, applying gold on objects “in memory of my years in America” is an integral part of her art again: “Gold always casts a spell on me. Gold is exciting: bright and gleaming in the light, and gray and matte in the shade.”

Text Eva Holz
Photos Miriam Künzli
Andrea Röthlin’s website
English translation Sabine Goodman

First published in Art Aurea 1-2014