In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dorothea Rockburne adopted an approach to art making that was informed by her early training as a painter in Montréal and her studies in mathematics and dance in the early 1950s at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. Rockburne developed a procedural form of working; she manually manipulated unexpected, non-art materials according to mathematical logic. In doing so, she explored new structural possibilities for translating the complexities of mathematical theory into physical space. From simple geometry, she turned to set theory—the study of how objects and information can be organized numerically and symbolically—to arrange groups of materials and actions into divisions that explored questions of conceptual, material, and physical belonging. Rockburne displaced, folded, and tore paper, to which she applied experimental materials like crude oil, grease, and tar, creating surfaces that are encoded with the methods and processes of their production. While conceptually rigorous, these works feature richly textured and lush materials, which index the artist’s labor and exert a bodily effect on the viewer.
Dorothea Rockburne was born in Montréal in 1932. She lives and works in New York City.