|Mimmo Rotella, Italian (1918 - 2006)
was born in Catanzaro on the 7th of October 1918, the son of
a milliner. Following high school he moved to Naples where he
began art studies (in 1941 he went to Rome after having obtained
a post at the Ministry of Postal and Telecommunication Services).
He did not stay long in the capital, however: on being called
up he joined the course in the Officer-training School in Nocera.
From here he was sent to the School for Non-commissioned Officers
in Caserta (Campania). In 1944 he left the armed forces and
then obtained his diploma at the Naples Art Academy. From 1944
until 1945 he taught draftsmanship at his city's Institute for
In 1945 he moved to Rome: following his figurative beginnings
and first experimentations he elaborated a manner of pictorial
expression of neo-geometrical matrix. His participation in exhibitions
began in 1947 at the Mostra Sindacale di Arti Figurative. He
also took part in all the annual exhibitions of the Art Club
up until 1951, both in Rome and Turin. As an alternative expressive
method 1949 saw him invent phonetic poetry which the artist
called 'epistaltic' (a neologism lacking sense): this was a
collection of words (also invented ones), whistles, sounds,
numbers and onomatopoeic reiterate. In the same year he wrote
its Manifesto which in 1955 was published by Leonardo Sinisgalli
in "Civiltà delle Macchine". His first one-man exhibition, with
abstract-geometrical works, was held in 1951 at the Galleria
Chiurazzi in Rome (an exhibition which enjoyed little favour
on the part of criticism).
Also in 1951 he had his first contact with French artists, exhibiting
in Paris at the "Salon des Realistes Nouvelles". For the period
bridging 1951-1952 he obtained a scholarship on the part of
the Fullbright Foundation, thanks to which he was able to sojourn
in the United States at the University of Kansas City with the
appointment as Artist in Residence. Here he created a large
mural composition and recorded phonetic poems with the accompaniment
of percussion instruments. At Harvard University in Boston he
held a performance of phonetic poetry and recorded other pieces
for the Library of Congress in Washington.
In 1952 he also held a second one-man exhibition at the Rockhill
Nelson Gallery in Kansas City. His sojourn in the United States
offered the possibility of getting to know the works of the
protagonists of the new art currents: Rauschenberg, Oldenburg,
Twombly, Pollock and Kline.
Following his return to Rome in 1953 he experienced a drawn-out
crisis during which he interrupted his pictorial production.
Convinced that everything in art had already been done he improvised
what he himself has defined as "Zen illumination": in short,
the discovery of the advertising poster as artistic expression,
as the message of the city. This saw the origin of the décollage
- initially the collage - by way of glueing pieces of posters
ripped off on the street onto canvas. Here Rotella adopted the
collage as used by the cubists, 'contaminating' it with the
dadaist and desecrating matrix of the objet trouvé. In Rome
he showed the 'torn poster' for the first time in an exhibition
entitled "Esposizione d'arte attuale" (1955).
He carried out the so-called "double décollage": that is, the
poster firstly removed from the wall and then torn up in the
studio. In this period he also made use of the retros d'affiche,
using the verso of the posters with the result obtained of non-figurative
and monochrome works.
He began to receive acknowledgements in 1956 with the Graziano
Award, followed in 1957 by the Battistoni e della Pubblica Istruzione
Award. With the Cinecittà series of 1958 he chose both the figures
and faces of film posters, orientating his production towards
works of a more figurative type.
Already recognized by criticism at the close of the 1950's as
being an exponent of the "Young Roman Painting, Rotella was
labelled as the 'poster ripper' or the 'painter of glued paper'.
At night, armed with a penknife, he not only ripped off posters
but also pieces of the metal sheeting and zinc of the mounting
frames of the billboard zones of the Rome City Council. In 1958
he was visited in Rome by the French critic Pierre Restany,
a meeting which was to lead to a long friendship. In the same
year he was included in the Roman exhibition entitled "Nuove
tendenze dell'arte italiana", organized by Lionello Venturi
and held in the seat of the Rome-New York Art Foundation. In
1959 one of his works was reproduced in the review "Azimuth",
founded in Milan by Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni.
The curiosity on the part of the public for the artist's extravagances,
for a person who decidedly led a bohémien life, was crystallized
in 1960 by way of a short film directed by Enzo Nasso dedicated
to the Pittori arrabbiati [Angry Painters]. Here Rotella directed
In 1960 he 'joined' the Nouveau Réalisme group (although he
did not sign its manifesto). The theoretician of this movement
was Pierre Restany and included - amongst others - names like
Klein, Tinguely, César, Spoerri, Arman and Christo. The group
also included the French artists Hains, Villeglé and Dufrêne
who in fact also worked on the collage, albeit in an autonomous
way. By working in the most total isolation Rotella had anticipated
the path of his French colleagues who were only exhibited for
the first time in 1957 at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris.
Together with his décollages Rotella also created assemblages
of objects bought from junk dealers: bottle caps and stoppers,
pieces of rope, twine etc.
American Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, together with the
Informal and the spatial and matteric research works carried
out in Italy at the time by Fontana and Burri, played an important
role in directing Rotella's pictorial orientation. In 1960 he
met De Kooning and Rothko in Rome.
In 1961 he took part in the historical Parisian exhibition entitled
"A 40° au-dessus de Dada", supervised by Pierre Restany. In
1962 he talked about his own artistic operations at the School
of Visual Arts in New York. In 1964 he was invited to take part
in the Venice Biennial.
While the press increasingly more talked about the phenomenon
of Affichisme Rotella moved to Paris where he began to elaborate
a procedure of serial production by way of the projection of
images in the negative on emulsified canvas. This operation
was to be given the definition of Reportage by the artist or,
and more specifically, Mec-Art in 1965 together with the art
critic Otto Hanh and the painter Alain Jaquet. The same year
saw his Parisian exhibition at the Galerie J.
Using typographical products, between 1967 and 1973 he created
his Art-typo works, printing proofs freely chosen and reproduced
on canvas. With this procedure he amused himself in insetting
and superimposing advertising images: «I inverted my old approach:
first I tried to disintegrate, now I try to reintegrate that
matter, that reality».
At the beginning of the 1970's he carried out a number of works
by directly acting on the advertising pages of magazines with
the use of solvents, reducing these either to the state of the
imprint (frottage) or quite simply cancelling them (effaçage).
Two years later, in 1972, he published an audacious autobiography
The "Plastiforme" were created in 1975: ripped posters placed
on a polyurethane support with the intention of giving them
In the same year he recorded his first Italian LP of phonetic
poems, presented by Alfredo Todisco. In 1976 he took part in
the International Recital of Sound Poetry - Poetry Action at
the Atelier Annick Le Moine. Another experimentation carried
out in those years was that of rolling up posters and closing
them in plexiglass cubes.
On having left Paris in order to set up home and studio in Milan
(1980), during the 1980's he elaborated his "Blanks" or coperture
d'affiches : zeroed advertising posters covered with white sheets
of paper - as happens for posters that are replaced or have
finished their billboard lease - following a conceptual operation.
1984 saw him once again using brushes and acrylic colours in
order to create the second cycle of works dedicated to the cinema:
In 1986 he visited Cuba, exhibiting his works at the Havana
University. During his stay he also took part in a performance:
the laceration of posters in the Square of the city. During
the same year he held a series of talks at the Domus Academy
He then created his sovrapitture (overpaintings), inspired by
the up-to-date theme of graffiti, pictorially intervening on
the advertising posters that were torn and then glued on canvas
(and from 1987 also ripped posters glued on a support of sheet
metal). He drew anonymous writings, like the ones it is possible
to read on city walls: signs, love notes and political slogans/epithets
in a double message.
In 1990 he took part in the "Art et Pub" exhibition held at
the Centre Pompidou in Paris and in the "High and Low" exhibition
held in New York at the Museum of Modern Art.
In 1991 he married the young Russian economist, Inna Agarounova,
who in 1993 gave birth to Asya.
In 1992 he was conferred the title of Officiel des arts et des
Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang.
In 1994 he was invited to take part in "Italian Metamorphosis"
held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 1996 he took part
in "Face ... l'Histoire" at the Centre Pompidou and in the exhibition
entitled "Halls of Mirrors" held at the Museum of Contemporary
Art in Los Angeles (an exhibition that was to tour the world,
Rome included). 1996 also saw the Internet inauguration of a
one-man exhibition which was diffused online - the first event
of its kind in Italy.
In 1997 Rotella dedicated the cycle of works entitled "Felliniana"
to the films by Federico Fellini.
In 1999 the Mayor of his natal city, Sergio Abramo, signed a
City Council order authorizing Rotella to freely remove posters
in Catanzaro and its environs.