After leaving the United States, Rotella went through a period of creative crisis and silence. During this time he reflected on the collage and assemblage techniques, and the possibility of experimenting with different materials. This situation led to the abstract geometric figures and disused materials such as burlap, pieces of glass and fragments of posters, all of which bear witness to his growing interest in urban and common elements.
Between 1953 and 1954, Rotella was trying his hand at small décollages made with several layers of posters taken from the street. The act of tearing posters is strictly linked with the concepts of freedom and causality: it descends from the “epistaltic” poetry and is in turn with the world of music, especially with that of jazz.
The first critics to see the new series of works were Emilio Villa and Cesare Vivaldi. Villa first showed a décollage during a group exhibition held in April–May 1955 at the Zattere del Ciriola, in Rome. In the same year, the January issue of Civiltà delle Macchine published for the first time one of Rotella’s works made with lacerated posters.
In addiction to the critics, that compared the artist’s works with the ones of the best exponents of Informel as Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri, also the world of the art galleries was passionate about Rotella’s new technique: from this point onward, there were numerous group and solo shows where he could exhibit his works. Parallel to the experimentation with the décollages, the artist also continued his research into the verso of the posters torn from the walls of the streets: in addiction to playing with the material appearance, the artist provides a key to interpretation for the abstract composition that is typical of this technique, using titles that are often evocative.
The retro d’aeffiches, realized starting from 1953, were shown from 1955 onwards.
During this period he met at the Caffè Rosati in Rome a lot of artists, such as Carla Accardi, Piero Dorazio, Achille Perilli and Giulio Turcato.
In 1958, Rotella’s décollages works included the first images taken from advertising graphics, bearing witness to his growing interest in popular icons, figurative detail, already present in the street posters. During the next year, he met the critic Pierre Restany: this was the beginning of a long friendship and professional relationship.
The Manifesto del Nouveau Réalisme was published by Pierre Restany on April 16, 1960. The group was founded in October, at the home of Yves Klein: Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Jacques Villeglé and Restany himself were present. César and Rotella took part in later group events, which soon will include Niki de Saint Phalle, Gérard Deschamps and Christo.
In 1961, Rotella moved back and forth between Rome and Paris, where he met Jeannine de Goldschmidt, Pierre Restany’s wife. In her exhibition space, the Galerie J, she organized some shows dedicated to the Nouveaux Réalistes, Rotella included. The artist, in this period, bought some objects at the flea markets, which he then assembled in his studio, as in a work like Il canto d'amore dei pesci (1961).
Between 1961 and 1962 his works were shown in two pivotal exhibitions held in New York City: “The Art of Assemblage” (The Museum of Modern Art) and New Realists (Sidney Janis Gallery).
In May 1963, the first monograph devoted to the artist’s work was published: Rotella: dal décollage alla nuova immagine, edited by Restany.
Throughout 1963, Rotella began experimenting with a technique that employed photomechanical reproduction processes and image manipulation: photo emulsion on canvas. Often defined also as reportages, they are characterized by the attention and penetrating clarity that Rotella gave to the most important chronicle events.
On 18 February of 1964 he was charged with possession and trafficking of drugs, and trading in pornographic material. He was sent to Regina Coeli prison: during his five months of imprisonment, he maintained a regular correspondence with the art dealer Plinio De Martiis, entrusted by the artist to organize the his room for the XXXII Venice Biennale. Some large décollages made in the years immediately preceding that moment were chosen: the triumph of the image was moving at the same pace as the consecration of Pop Art, which took part in that very Biennale, won by Robert Rauschenberg.
During the trial, Toti Scialoja, Cesare Vivaldi and Maurizio Calvesi – among others – came out on his side. On July 17, 1964, he was released for insufficient evidence. During the summer Rotella went to visit his exhibition room at the Biennale, in the company of Lucio Fontana.
After the disappointment for the legal proceedings, he moved to Paris in Autumn 1964.