Mimmo Rotella

Extravagant experimental artist


Mimmo Rotella, artist: born Catanzaro, Italy 7 October 1918; died Milan 8 January 2006.

Nothing illustrates more vividly the hectic post-war art scene than the scintillating career of the Italian experimental artist Mimmo Rotella.

Rotella made his name in the 1950s by ripping posters of film stars from the walls of Rome by night and then transforming them into ingenious, provocative and amusing collages. They were mainly posters of Italian stars, for it was the period of the great Italian film-maker. So Rotella tore up works of varying quality, from Europa di notte, starring the yet unknown Henri Salvador and Carmen Sevilla, to La dolce vita by Fellini.

Strips and patches of the posters were wrenched from hoardings and given various kinds of treatment in the artist's studio before being assembled helter-skelter in dizzying Surrealist combinations stuck to the canvas. Lots of torn-up and rearranged starlets enjoyed a more-than-fleeting celebrity through these wry manipulations of their faces and figures, carried off with such malicious effrontery and artistic virtuosity.

Rotella was born into a modest middle-class family in 1918. His mother "took in sewing" and some of her materials would make appearances in her son's later works. He had art training in Naples, but his first job was in a minor post at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in Rome. He did military service in the Second World War, being demobbed in 1944.

For a while Rotella made a living by teaching art in his home town, Catanzaro in Calabria. But he soon returned to Rome, where he first made a name for himself as the inventor of "phonetic poetry", a forerunner of the concrete poetry of the Fifties and Sixties. He wanted to become a painter, however, and for a time hesitated between figurative and geometric styles to match his experimental poetry.

His first exhibition of abstract and geometric paintings in 1951 in Rome proved a total flop. So he sought artistic success in more broad-minded America, where he enjoyed a certain popularity through his experimental abstract poetry. It was the era of concrete poetry, wonderfully elaborated in the early works of the great Scot Edwin Morgan, who penned such artless ditties as

Pool

Peopl

e plop!

Cool.

(Fortunately, Morgan developed into a major British poet.)

Rotella wowed them at the University of Kansas City with his "percussive" poems. At Harvard he gave standing-room-only performances of his "phonetic" works. The Americans adored his quaint English and his warm Italian rapport with the newly liberated youth of the United States. Full of his American success story, he returned to Rome for his second exhibition in 1952 - this received another lukewarm reception that led to a long fallow period.

But artistic release finally arrived, although it took an unusual form. Rotella started stripping the walls of Rome of their cinema posters, in a technique that became known as "laceration". With a number of French artists in the "New Realist" movement initiated by the art critic Pierre Restany in Paris in 1949, Rotella began to be known in Italy, for he was the only Italian member of the group. Restany later coined the term "rotelliser" - to "rotellise" - to describe Rotella's working process.

There was method in apparent madness: he transformed his ribbons and rags of film posters into inscrutable jigsaw puzzles whose solution lay simply in the eye's enjoyment of their Cubist collage. His art became mania, though not manic. The next step was to "deconstruct" the torn-down posters even further by tearing the loose strips into crumpled rags and tatters and further distressing them in the studio - "double décollage". Then the bits and pieces were stuck haphazardly on a prepared canvas. The final effect was often rivetingly shocking and oddly touching in its injured beauty. He also experimented with a "recto-verso" technique in which he obtained recklessly vivid chromatic contrasts by exposing the reverse sides of certain fragments.

These experiments made of Rotella a living legend in a world of Italian art - fanatical, extravagant, unpredictable. He became like some possessed creature in an early silent movie roaming the streets and alleys of Rome and tearing at the walls. He was linked with other groundbreaking experimenters like Yves Klein, Arman, Jean Tinguely and César.

During the Sixties, Rotella started making "assemblages" - breath-taking amalgamations of the most various and heteroclite compositions, like his "Tapezzeria Romana" ("Roman Tapestry") which, in homage to his seamstress mother, he trimmed with passementerie. They were exhibited at Galerie J in Paris as well as at Cinecittà. In the late Sixties, there was another Galerie J exhibition of his new discovery, MecArt (from "mechanical art", also known as "mechanical painting"), created by the use of manipulated photography.

Mimmo Rotella's autobiography, Autorotella, was published in 1972. In 1980, he returned to acrylic painting and had exhibitions devoted to various subjects like his "marouflages" (with cloth or tape backings) - another tribute to his seamstress mother - and a series of "Blanks", posters covered by sheets of white paper.

James Kirkup

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?