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What Is Decollage?

By Debra Barnhart
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By JaneAir — On Feb 08, 2012

Is this really art? It seems a lot more like vandalism to me. But then again, I've never really gotten so-called "street art" anyway (how is graffiti art?).

But just think about it for a minute. Imagine you put up a poster to advertise your band or movie or theater event of whatever. You come back a day later and someone has "artfully" ripped it up to reveal whatever was under it. Now no one can see the time and place of the show, or the name of the band. I doubt you would feel like that was art!

In my opinion, vandalizing something someone else made isn't art. Art is actually creating something yourself!

By Azuza — On Feb 07, 2012

@SZapper - You're right, there aren't too many posters hanging around on walls these days. I think trying to recreate something like this physically would be kind of lame, personally.

I feel like half the fun of art like this is the element of chance. Those artists didn't know what they were going to reveal by peeling back certain parts of the posters! They just did it randomly, and whatever was revealed, was revealed.

I feel like if you tried to recreate this, it definitely wouldn't be the same because you would know what was underneath and you could plan what your image would look like.

By SZapper — On Feb 06, 2012

I think this concept sounds really cool. I love when artists take advantage of their unique surroundings to create works of art. I mean, I don't know if I would just randomly think about peeling back parts of posters to reveal the posters underneath.

Also, these days, you don't see too many areas that have posters plastered on top of one another anyway. Everything is pretty much all digital! I suppose you could recreate this art form yourself, but I don't think it would be exactly the same.

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