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Catanzaro (Italy), 1918 ? Milan (Italy), 2006
Master Italian artist Mimmo Rotella created images by manipulating preexisting ones. Using a reductive decollage process, Rotella tore at the surfaces of the posters and advertisements that mark the landscape of the urban environment, literally and figuratively exposing the multiple layers of this everyday imagery. In his last works, Rotella focused on images of fashion and nature, confronting parallel issues of the cyclical nature of the seasons. His gestural rips transform the mechanically reproduced images into unique compositions by revealing layers of related material beneath their surfaces.
Born in Catanzaro, he moved to Rome in 1945. After a brief time on a Fulbright in the United States, he returned to Italy. 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 decollage - 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 trouve. 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 decollage": 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 Cinecitta series of 1958 he chose both the figures and faces of film posters, orientating his production towards works of a more figurative type.
In 1961 he took part in the historical Parisian exhibition entitled "A 40Â° 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.
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: Cinecitta 2.
He then created his sovrapitture (overpaintings), inspired by the newly popular graffiti style, 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 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.