Mimmo Rotella
Year, Birthplace 1918, Italy
Year, Place of death 2006, Italy
In 1945, by the age of twenty-six, Mimmo Rotella was already juggling his art studies in Naples with a job at the Ministry for Post and Telecommunications, mobilisation as a non-commissioned officer while a student during the war and teaching drawing at the geometers’ institute in his native city. While in Rome in 1945, he decided to become a painter, and began painting post-cubist pieces in a style that falls somewhere between figurative and ‘neo-geometric’. He started to exhibit his paintings in 1947, and had his first solo exhibition at the Galeria Chiurazzi in Rome in 1951. His initial abstract and geometric works did not garner any success. In 1949, realising that the path that he had taken did not promise a great future and that painting had nothing more to offer him, he sought out an alternative mode of expression, which led to the invention of a type of poetry that he called ‘epistaltic’, a sequence of nonsensical words, whistles, sounds, urban noise and onomatopoeia. In 1951 he went to the University of Kansas in the USA as an artist in residence, on a scholarship from the Fulbright Commission. While there, he created a large mural composition and experimented with providing his phonetic poems with a percussion accompaniment. Rotella carried out a performance of his phonetic poetry at Harvard University in Boston, and recorded others for the Library of Congress in Washington DC. His second solo exhibition was held at the Rockhill Nelson Gallery in Kansas City (1952). During his sojourn in the USA, he made the acquaintance of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. On his return to Rome in 1953, Rotella suffered a long crisis, during which time he ceased to paint. Wandering through the city, he came upon partly torn and unstuck advertising posters, and realised that these could serve as a means of artistic expression and convey a message about everyday life. He began to stick pieces of torn posters onto canvas. Later, he began to create a double ‘décollage’ effect by tearing the poster from its backing and ripping it away again in his studio. In 1954, he exhibited his shredded posters for the first time during an exhibition of 'contemporary art' in Rome, causing scandal. Up to 1959, he preferred to rip away posters with abstract motifs, in a sense replicating his work as a painter. Letters and words later began to feature in his works. For the Cinecittà series, begun in 1958, he worked on cinema posters, isolating faces and silhouettes (Dolce Vita, 1960; Marilyn, 1952), and on advertising posters (Chi va chi viene, 1963), choosing posters to tear down on the basis of their beauty as well as their subject matter. In 1958 the abstract painter Giulio Turcato introduced Rotella to the French critic Pierre Restany in Rome. This meeting brought Rotella out of the shadows, whereupon he discovered similar works created by Raymond Hains, Jacques Villeglé and François Dufrêne, about whom he had previously known nothing. From this point onwards he emulated his Parisian colleagues by composing more figurative torn works, concentrating more on showing the details. He joined the Nouveau Réalisme movement in 1960, although he could not attend the inaugural meeting held on 27 October at the home of Yves Klein. Only a month later, he exhibited his works alongside those of other poster artists at the second Festival d’art d’avant gard at Parc des expositions de la Porte de Versailles, Paris. From that point onward Rotella, now living in Paris, participated in all of the activities of the Nouveaux Réalistes (including Salon comparaisons, in Paris; 40° au-dessus de Dada, 1961, Galerie J, Paris; The Art of Assemblage, 1961, and at MoMA in New York, followed by exhibitions in Dallas and San Francisco, among others). His first solo exhibition in Paris was held at the Galerie J in 1961. Rotella began to broaden his search for material, using thinners to modify advertising pages from magazines. He set up a process for mass production by projecting negative images onto a canvas spread with an emulsion, and called the resulting works ‘Reportage’ or 'Mec-art' (1965). Between 1967 and 1973 he used typographic products to create his 'Art-typo', trial designs freely applied to the canvas, overlapping and squashing advertising images. Later, in 1975, he dreamed up the 'Plastiformes', strips of ripped posters glued onto three-dimensional polyurethane supports. Another experiment carried out during this period involved crumpling posters and enclosing them in acrylic glass cubes, in the spirit of Arman’s accumulations of objects. Rotella moved to Milan in 1980 and did not cease to experiment with posters and paper recovered from rubbish tips for the next twenty years, while continuing to devise phonetic poems. AC