In its strictest sense decollage, a word derived from French that traditionally has an accent over the first “e,” refers to a form of art made from torn public posters without any further intervention on the part of the artist. Some artists left their artwork outside on walls, and others tore layers of posters completely from the walls and presented them in another context as art. Mimmo Rotello was a leading figure in this art form, although many of his artworks were collage. Decollage was one of the first art methods that used mass culture, and for this reason it can be seen as a form of Pop Art.
The French meaning for decollage is “to take off” or “unglue.” In the late 1940s and early 1950s artists in Italy and France began to look for ways to use mass market imagery in their work, and these artists began to peel street posters from public walls so that other posters beneath would become visible. The excavated posters, sometimes referred to as lacerated posters, were considered artwork and were often left behind anonymously. Some artists would also peel layers of posters away from the wall and display their decollages elsewhere without any further manipulation. Movie stars and mass-produced goods were popular subjects in these artworks.
The Italian artist Mimmo Rotella, one of the inventors of decollage, eventually began to tear posters from public walls and glue them to canvas. Although Rotella referred to these works as decollage, they were really collage. Decollage is a subtractive art making process in which paper is removed to reveal the image underneath without further intrusion. Collage, on the other hand, can be thought of as an additive art making process. The artist glues newspaper, magazine clippings, colored paper, photographs and any other material that he or she wants to a canvas or cardboard to form a collage.
Decollage developed as artists began to look for inventive ways to assimilate mass culture images into their artwork and comment on the nature of these images as well. Although Mimmo Rotella is sometimes credited with originating the art form, artists in France were using it too. Rotella was eventually invited to join a French artists’ group, called New Realism, that used mass media materials in their art. The New Realism group formed the foundation for French Pop Art. One of the best known figures in Pop Art was Andy Warhol, the American artist, whose images of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe became famous worldwide during the 1960s.