While Andy Warhol’s mega-show plays across the river at Tate, a much less-heralded friend from Italy has taken up residence in a quiet street in Mayfair. Just like Warhol, Mimmo Rotella was obsessed by the mechanistic over the manual. But instead of making glitzy silk screen prints of pop icons, Rotella responded to the post-War boom with a grungy alternative: the décollage.
In the 1950s, Rotella launched his artistic career by roaming the streets of Rome and tearing advertising posters from the walls, which he then distressed further at home. In doing so, he made the opposite of a collage, where parts of an original intact image are ripped away, to make something new.
Venere imperiale (1966)
As its title suggests, this exhibition works hard to break Rotella out of the poster-ripping stereotype, and focuses on his other work. For example, the picture above, while also using ad posters as source material, is actually an artypo: Rotella’s term. For this technique, multiple intact images are overlaid and printed as one, such that they appear as translucent layers.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, there are photo emulsion works, where pictures from magazines - again, often ads - are transferred directly to canvas. The final images are changed and distorted - made new - from the random flaws that come about through manual reproduction.
The spookiness of Rosella’s aesthetic comes through most strongly in these photo emulsions from the 1960s, where media flotsam and jetsam are grainily blown up on canvas: a Fiat 1500 ad of a dark highway here, a still photo of Jackie Kennedy in her brain-spattered Chanel suit there. Just like Warhol, the visual interest comes where the manual attempt at mechanistic reproduction falls short; the art’s in the errors.
Il traffico (1965)
In fact, Rotella and Warhol knew each other slightly in New York, the former living at the Chelsea Hotel, before moving to Paris and, finally, back to Italy. But Warhol’s premier league reputation has led to his works being buffed to the pristine perfection befitting a Tate audience. Rotella’s canvases at Cardi are firmly second division, overlaid with the browning and fading of age - perhaps even neglect. This renders the final images all the more spooky, though it blunts and deadens the freshness and zing of his art, which must have struck his first audiences, half a century ago.
This particular factory has long since fallen silent, and gathered rust and dust. I found it all quite poignant.
Mimmo Rotella Beyond Décollage: Photo Emulsions and Artypos, 1963-1980 is at Cardi Gallery (London). 03 March - 12 December 2020