Mimmo Rotella (Italian, 1918-2006) LEGR 1958

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Lot 8AR
Mimmo Rotella
(Italian, 1918-2006)

£ 65,000 - 85,000
US$ 86,000 - 110,000
Mimmo Rotella (Italian, 1918-2006)

signed and dated 58; signed, titled and dated twice 58 1958 on the reverse
décollage on canvas

58.5 by 100 cm.
23 1/16 by 39 3/8 in.


  • Provenance
    Graziano Laurini Collection, Milan
    Sale: Finarte, Milan, Arte moderna e contemporanea, Parte seconda, 11 October 2005, Lot 351
    Private Collection, Milan
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2007

    Paris, Tornabuoni Art, Mimmo Rotella, 2012
    London, Simon Dickinson, Italian Show, 2014, p. 35, illustrated in colour
    London, Robilant + Voena, Mimmo Rotella, 2015, p. 75, no. 33, illustrated in colour

    Tommaso Trini, Rotella, Milan 1974, n.p., illustrated in colour

    LEGR, 1958 is a compelling work of art, an image which is both instantly arresting and subtly complex. It is also an important early example of a décollage created from layer upon layer of torn sections of advertising posters, a technique with which the artist is inextricably linked. The four letters which dominate the picture plane at first seem strange, undecipherable. But there is something recognisable here too, in the elegant curves and curls of the letters, and in that hot sunshine yellow; a memory, or at least the ripped fragment of a memory. As the eye moves across the rest of the composition, other elements emerge too; the black stamp on one of the letters, a vivid streak of red that stretches across the top left, the edge of a vaguely familiar red star on the far right, and those distinctive patches of white where the rough edge of the torn paper has been left raw and exposed. LEGR is a work of art filled with reminiscences of another place, another age, layer upon layer of inference and allusion. It is provocative, daring and enigmatic; typically Italian, and emblematic of the artist.
    Words were important to Rotella, and during the 1940s he became involved in writing what he termed 'epistaltic' poetry, an unconventional mix of real and invented words which played with sound in unexpected ways. Given the material from which they are created, it is not surprising that his works of art are often dominated by text too. Art historians regularly talk of 'reading' a picture, and LEGR can, of course, be read on two different levels. But the letters that we see here have no inherent meaning: instead, like Rotella's poetry, they evoke subconscious reactions, bringing forward distant remembrances and shining new light on shadowy, partial recollections. Half a century before, text had also played a prominent role in the paintings of cubist artists, and in particular those of Georges Braque. But, as with LEGR, the meaning of the words themselves was unimportant in these cubist works; the response that they awakened was what mattered, latent memories and instinctive reactions. In these works of art, words are stripped of their purpose, letters become forms filled with a visual import beyond their simple verbal connotations.
    The excitement of Rotella's creative process is vividly captured in the artist's own description of his practice. He talked of "raiding" the streets of Rome in search of interesting posters, and when he spoke of "tearing down" what he found, it is clear that he was describing his attitude towards previous artistic traditions as much as the physical act of removing the sheets of papers from the city's walls. Black and white photographs of the artist involved in this rite of lacerazione (literally tearing or ripping) survive from the 1950s, with Rotella shown pulling down huge swathes of paper from the walls of the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The ragged edges of the fragments of paper evident in LEGR are testament to the energy involved in its production; this is a work of art which speaks of its own dynamic conception, a vision of motion, of un-choreographed pulling and ripping and tearing. It is also an artistic paradox, this beautiful creation which has emerged from the act of impetuous destruction.
    By their very nature, Rotella's décollages are constructed out of many diverse elements, but the fact that they hang together so successfully was all down to Rotella himself, and his spontaneous sense of artistic harmony.
    Rotella saw the décollages as a reaction to the monotony of his childhood in Calabria, and presented the act of ripping as a protest against a society that seemed stuck in the past and lacking in artistic vision. During the 1960s his use of colourful advertising imagery inevitably led him to be labelled a European equivalent to the Pop artists who were then taking the USA by storm, a comparison which was only heightened by his involvement in the influential movement known as Nouveau Réalisme. Here he found himself in the company of many of the greatest names of twentieth-century European avant-garde art, including Yves Klein, Arman and Jean Tinguely, as well as the noted French affichistes Raymond Hains and Jacques Villeglé, whose own torn-paper works explore similar themes to those of Mimmo Rotella.
    While collage had been used by previous generations of artists, most notably Kurt Schwitters, and the word décollage had first appeared in print in the Dictionnaire Abrégé du Surréalisme in 1938, it was Rotella and his fellow Nouveau Réalistes who were to become the best-known exponents of this technique of building up layers and then tearing them back. In taking something recognisable, a piece of text or an image which could be seen on every street corner, and transforming it into one of his décollages, Rotella was involved in an act of radical appropriation, a metamorphosis from valueless ephemerality into pictorial immortality.
    Spend a while studying LEGR, and aspects of source material begin to emerge; the distinctive font of the letters and that fragment of a star imply that the original poster may have advertised San Pellegrino, that most Italian of mineral waters; the stamp indicates that tax had been paid for the advertisement to be posted for a month, most probably from 6 November to 6 December 1958. It is this unsettling interweaving of the vaguely familiar with the totally unexpected which makes this such a rewarding work of art, for while it may rely on materials which are apparently commonplace, LEGR itself is undoubtedly extraordinary. Every rip, every tear represents a virtual attack on artistic tradition. And just as Mimmo Rotella himself intended, this virulent denunciation of established concepts of 'fine art' has resulted in a work which shines brightly through the greyness of the modern world, lending it a touch of indelible Pop glamour tinged with the heat, colour and drama of 1950s Italy.
Mimmo Rotella (Italian, 1918-2006) LEGR 1958
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