Mimmo Rotella's Biography

Domenico Rotella was born in Catanzaro on 7 October 1918 from a middle-class family, his mother started a milliner business with 12 workers. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, in 1945 he settled in Rome, and worked at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications as a designer. In Rome he began his artistic career as a figurative painter and then continued as an abstract-geometric painter. In the meantime, he experiments with phonetic poetry, which he calls epistaltic and in 1949 he wrote the Manifesto of epistaltic poetry: the epistaltic poems he composed are based on a set of phonemes of his own invention and evocative onomatopoeic sounds. He participates in the “Salon des Réalités Nouvelles” in Paris and takes part in the “III Annual Art Club Exhibition” in Rome.

Between 1951 and 1952 Rotella participated in various exhibitions and held his first personal exhibition at the Chiurazzi Gallery in Rome. He gets a scholarship from the Fulbright Foundation, thanks to the scholarship he goes to the University of Kansas City (Missouri), first as a student and then as an artist in residence. For the occasion, he created a wall panel for the university, in the hall of the Faculty of Geology. He returns to Italy and settles in Rome in an atelier near Piazza del Popolo.

In the following years, returning to Rome, Rotella goes through a period of crisis, during which he interrupts his research, while continuing to compose phonetic or epistatic poetry. He begins to compose works on canvas on which he applies parts of the torn papers that he tears from advertising posters in the street: the décollage is born, which is the opposite of collage. While the collage operates a superimposition of images, the décollage operates a subtraction of the image by means of tears and abrasions of the figures. The peculiarity of Mimmo Rotella’s work is that he also uses the back of the collage for which the “retro d’affiche” are born. In his early works, Rotella uses public billboards by ungluing them from their support, generally made of galvanized sheet metal, assembling them on canvas with a few interventions of tears which are however not random but performed with deliberate skill.

Between 1955 and 1960 he exhibited for the first time in Rome the “torn posters” in the exhibition “Seven painters on the Tiber“, at the Zattere del Ciriola in Rome and in the solo show at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, where he also participated in the “Graziano Prize 1955”. He then participates in various group exhibitions, exhibiting his works in numerous exhibitions and galleries in London, Zurich, Milan, Venice, Rome, Ljubljana, Lima, Mexico City, Tokyo and New York.

In Rome, he met the art critic Pierre Restany, a theorist of the Nouveau Réalisme. In October 1960 Pierre Restany brought together a number of artists, including Jean Tinguely, Raymond Hains, François Dufrêne, Daniel Spoerri, Martial Raysse, Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé, Yves Klein, Arman, to find the Nouveau Réalisme group. Later, César and Rotella will also join. Numerous exhibitions continue in Nice, Milan, Rome, Paris, Venice, London and New York. Rotella passes in these years from the abstract of the first décollage to the patinated figurative, rotogravure style, where those who are the stars par excellence in the popular imagination are exalted, Marylin above all and then Mastroianni, Elvis, the circus tiger, etc.

However, Rotella does not stop at décollage, in the following years he begins to develop a serial production process and experiments with the technique of photographic transfer on emulsified canvas commonly called “reportage” or “Mec-Art” together with the art critic Otto Hahn and the painter Alain Jacquet. This diction means that the work is obtained by mechanical means. At the same time Rotella developed the “Artypos” technique. This technique consists in taking the proofs of start-up printing of the printing houses, often consisting of superimposed images, and gluing them on canvas. Sometimes after gluing these canvases are plasticized obtaining a more pleasant and captivating result.

He exhibits at the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan where the first monograph dedicated to his work is presented. He participates in the XXXII Venice Biennale and in various prestigious international exhibitions. In Paris, where he settled in 1964, he presented a series of works made with film posters.

He participates in the collective exhibition “Hommage à Niecéphore Niepce” in Brussels together with Alain Jacquet, Gianni Bertini, Pol Bury, Nikos. They all use photographic processes to ‘mechanically’ process a new synthetic image. He shows in the foyer of the La Fenice theatre in Venice the first artypo, print proofs chosen and freely reproduced on the canvas. A process with which the artist superimposes the advertising images, with the intent of reintegrating what he had previously dismembered. In 1967 he began filming with César some improvisations with an erotic background, involving some actresses and whose recurring theme is the myth of Leda and the Swan. It is the year in which he participates in the collective “Artypo” at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, dedicated to the relationship between art and photography. One of his Marilyns appears in “Hommage à Marilyn Monroe” at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. At the end of November, she leaves the old studio before leaving for New York. In 1968, Lawrence Alloway visits the makeshift atelier at the Chelsea Hotel and invites the artist to give a lecture on his creative technique at the School of Visual Arts in New York, during which he describes the birth of décollage. Minister Georges Pompidou buys one of his works through the art dealer Samy Tarica. Between 1970 and 1972 he undertakes various trips and participates in the “Festival del Nuovo Realismo” in Milan, during which he intervenes on a wall of torn posters in Piazza Formentini, together with Christo, Arman, César, Tinguely, Dufrêne, Raysse, Niki de Saint Phalle, Spoerri. In 1971 the exhibition “Rétrospective Rotella. Décollages, Mec-Art, Artypo” was inaugurated at the Galerie Mathias Fels in Paris. In 1972 the artist’s autobiography “Autorotella. Autobiography of an artist” was published and he exhibits in various galleries. In 1973 Rotella creates frottage (reproduction of the relief of an object traced on a sheet of paper so as to make its shape appear, intervening on the advertising pages of magazines with the use of solvents and reducing them to the imprint stage) and effaçage (typographical image erased through the action of a solvent) which he exhibits at the Christian Stein Gallery in Turin and at the Galerie Marquet in Paris with “Erotelique.” In the frottage Rotella works with nitro solvents, images taken from magazines and then transfer these images, widely discoloured, on a white sheet of paper by tracing; on the same sheet he also transfers several images. In the effaçage, Rotella treats pages cut from magazines with solvents, so that the image undergoes a discoloration until part of it disappears. Subsequently these pages are pasted on canvas.

In 1975 he made the plastiforme, torn posters inserted in a sealed polyurethane case. An LP is released that groups phonetic poems from 1949 to 1975. In the following months he exhibits in various galleries and exhibitions. He elaborates a new series of photographic reports on political subjects, centred on political and current issues, including a portrait of Aldo Moro. The 1980s saw three new experiments by Rotella, namely the “Blanks”, the “Overpaintings” and the “Lamiere“. In 1980 he leaves Paris, moves to Milan and here he elaborates the blank (covers), consisting of advertising posters torn and covered with monochrome strips of paper leaving gaps according to the artistic perception of Rotella. Around 1984 he began to paint the second cycle dedicated to cinema, consisting of acrylic paintings on canvas and paper reproducing film posters, exhibited at the Galleria Marconi in Milan from 27 September. And two years later he begins to elaborate the overpaintings which consist of a graphic or pictorial intervention, elaborated by the artist on an intact or previously torn poster, on the décollage, using acrylic colours. He performs a performance on the tearing of posters.

In early 1987 he paints on old metal panels, previously used as a support for other works. In 1989 on the occasion of the exhibition “Orientations of Italian Art. Rome 1947-1989” in Moscow he meets Inna Agarounova, who will become his wife. The following year he deepens the theme of three-dimensionality with a series of works that he calls “sculptures-architectures” or “sheets“, décollage performed directly on the support of two or more sheets obtained from advertising panels and subsequently folded, which often take the shape of back of affiche presented on the occasion of the personal “Rotella. Overpainting” at the Galerie Beaubourg, Paris. He participates in the important collective exhibition “Art et Pub” in Paris and in the “High and Low” exhibition at MoMA in New York. In 1991 he married Inna Agarounova, his witnesses are Pierre Restany and Giorgio Marconi. The following year he received the Officiel des Arts et des Lettres honor from the French Minister of Culture Jack Lang and in 1993 he was artist en residence at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Dijon.

After various exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Milan, Cologne and Munich, in 1997 he dedicated the cycle of works entitled Felliniana to the director Federico Fellini and in 1998 he exhibited at the Fabjbasaglia Gallery in Rimini in an exhibition dedicated to Federico Fellini. The Parisian publishing house Fall publishes the monograph “Mimmo Rotella” by Giovanni Joppolo. On March 25, 2000, the Mimmo Rotella Foundation was established by the artist’s will with the aim of collecting, cataloguing and preserving the works, documents, testimonies of the artist’s work, life and research. In October 2002, the Mimmo Rotella Foundation, in collaboration with Germano Celant, began the project for the recognition of the works and the retrieval of documentary materials in order to reconstruct the artist’s archive. On 19 April, on the proposal of the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities Giuliano Urbani, he received the gold medal for the visual arts from the President of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

From the first months of 2003 he devoted himself to a new series of works named by Pierre Restany New Icons, which combine the technique of blank with that of overpainting. With Tiziana Ghiglioni he records a jazz adaptation of his phonetic poems, published under the title “Rotella Variations”. In April, the personal “Mimmo Rotella. China Exhibition “and during the summer the personal “Sketches and drawings. Mimmo Rotella 1940-1990”, dedicated to unpublished graphic works, “Rotella”, on the occasion of which he received the “Artist of the year” award, and “Mimmo Rotella. Tribute to Marilyn Monroe”. In the following years, numerous personal exhibitions are organized and he participates in several important group exhibitions around the world.

On 19 May 2004 he received an honorary degree from the Faculty of Architecture of the “Mediterranea” University of Reggio Calabria. In September at the “61st Venice International Film Festival”, the documentary “L’ora della lertola” is presented, directed by Mimmo Calopreste, and produced in collaboration with the Mimmo Rotella Foundation.

In March 2005 he took part in the “XIV Quadrennial of Rome. Off topic/Italian Feeling”; on the occasion of the exhibition, Pio Baldi, general manager for architecture and contemporary arts, presents him with the gold medal for his career. On March 18, the Casa della Memoria opens in Catanzaro, the house-museum that houses a nucleus of works from the Mimmo Rotella Foundation and a library dedicated to the artist’s work and contemporary figurative arts.

Mimmo Rotella died in Milan on 8 January 2006.