‘…the laceration I perform in the street, when the poster appears to me as a crucial moment in nature, is totally different from the laceration that in my studio respects not only a natural order but corresponds to my needs regarding vision and the creation of something that is a metaphor of the world, even from the point of view of a ready-made’
‘Every morning I would go out and look at the walls covered with advertising posters. No cinema yet. They were industrial advertising posters. The torn posters fascinated me. After a two-year crisis it was like a revelation: this was it, this was the new message I had to communicate. So in the evening I would go out, I’d take down those posters and put them under my bed…and that is how décollage came about’
A densely layered and boldly coloured composition constructed from pieces of torn advertising posters and papers, In apparenza is a large and striking example of Mimmo Rotella’s signature and career defining technique, décollage, which he had begun to use in 1953. Using the streets of Rome as his inspiration, Rotella ripped pieces from advertising posters that adorned the walls of the city, before returning to his studio where he cut and tore them once more and adhered them to a support. Initially using the versos of these posters to create near monochrome compositions, towards the end of the 1950s, Rotella began to use the rectos of these advertisements, allowing snippets of text, figures, and fragments of colour to burst from his multi-faceted, collaged works. Executed between 1959 and 1960, In apparenza embodies this shift: the composition explodes with fragments of bold colour. Shards of blue, glimmers of yellow and flashes of red radiate from the myriad of layers that constitute the composition. High and low art converge in this brilliant mosaic-like surface, a simultaneous vision of colour, word and image.
Rotella’s décollages were born out of the very fabric of the city of Rome. Following the trauma of the Second World War, by the beginning of the 1950s Italy was in the midst of the ‘economic miracle’ that saw an enormous boom in industrialisation, trade and consumerism. Billboards and advertising posters appeared in every corner of the city, pasted atop one another, seducing Rome’s inhabitants with slick, glossy images of everything from luxury goods to the new stars of the silver screen. It was to this rapidly modernising city – a visual melting pot in which antiquity and modernity confronted each other at every turn – that Rotella returned following a two-year stay in the USA in 1952. Abandoning easel painting, he sought a new mode of art making, and found inspiration on the streets of the city themselves. ‘Every morning I would go out and look at the walls covered with advertising posters’, Rotella explained. ‘No cinema yet. They were industrial advertising posters. The torn posters fascinated me. After a two-year crisis it was like a revelation: this was it, this was the new message I had to communicate. So in the evening I would go out, I’d take down those posters and put them under my bed…and that is how décollage came about’ (Rotella, quoted in G. Celant, Mimmo Rotella, Milan, 2007, p. 512).
Tearing, cutting, layering and sticking these found paper pieces down onto canvas, with his décollages, Rotella brought the metropolis into his painting, creating a radical form of art that was entirely based on a new material reality. In In apparenza, fragments of colours, letters and words simultaneously appear and disappear into the myriad layers of paper that constitute the surface, a reflection of the inherent ephemerality of the paper posters that lined the city’s walls. All signs of the artist’s hand and the subjective, gestural expression that dominated much of 1950s post-war art are gone, replaced by the physicality of the raw materials themselves. ‘I tear the posters’, Rotella explained, ‘first from the walls, then from the support: how much style, how much imagination and how many interests accumulate, clash and alternate between the first and last tear. It’s not a question of abstract colours being contrasted, but of colours with their own energy, their own spirit, their own vitality, so to speak’ (Rotella, quoted in G. Celant, ibid., p. 28).