Dorothea Rockburne

1932 | Montreal, Canada

American paintor.

Dorothea Rockburne, now in her eighties and still working vigorously, earned prominence in the history of abstract art in America several decades ago. Born in Montreal in 1932, after a traditional beaux-arts education, she left Canada in 1950 to study at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There, she encountered artists who went on to be leading figures in the New York avant-garde of the time. She also met the renowned topologist Max Dehn, whose tutelage, not in art but in mathematical theory, was to become the lodestar of her creative achievement. Repulsed by the common portrayal of women in fiction as ‘plodders, fools or victims’, D. Rockburne instead found solace in a discipline of logic that fed her visual concepts.

When she left Black Mountain in 1955 to live in New York, the contacts from those years led to a spectrum of experimental activities,
not only in painting, but also photography, film, performance, and dance, while study in mathematics continued to inform her studio work. As well as participating in group shows during the following decade, from the early 1970s, she had solo exhibitions of installations that stemmed from her studies of mathematical set theory. They positioned her as a significant presence in the arena of contemporary art in New York, where minimalist and conceptual philosophies then held sway. Her sources were as diverse as Inca sites, Egyptian bas relief, and early Renaissance fresco, but all filtered through her methodology of mathematical processes.
Now her work is represented in major museums and featured in exhibitions across North America. Installations from the 1970s have been re-created by the Dia Foundation in Beacon, New York. Drawing is the foundation of D. Rockburne’s practice. In 1970, she began a series, ‘Drawings Which Make Themselves’, incorporating creases and indentation with graphite to create geometric demarcations. She followed these works with a folio of six prints: the complete set is entitled Locus.

Her early art education in Montreal included classic techniques of printmaking, but throughout her career, D. Rockburne has delved into unexplored, latent properties of any medium. With Locus, she combined intaglio techniques, then folded and pleated the page to create relief linear imagery as it went through the press. The aim was ‘to explore and invent and perhaps add to the history of printmaking’, she said in a recent conversation with the author. The International Print Center honoured
her with an award in 2018.

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Jennifer Winkworth

As published in Women in Abstraction © 2021 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London

Dorothea Rockburne — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Dorothea Rockburne, Locus 4, 1972-1975, soft-ground, aquatint, and graphite on paper, with folds, 101.6×76.5cm, Whitney Museum of American Art, © ADAGP, Paris

Dorothea Rockburne — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Dorothea Rockburne, Scalar, 1971, chipboard, crude oil, paper and nails, 203.2 x 289.5 x 8.9 cm, MOMA, © ADAGP, Paris

Dorothea Rockburne — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Dorothea Rockburne, Moon Angel from the series The Way of Angels, 1982, watercolor, blue pencil, vellum, and glue on ragboard, 73.34 x 90.65 cm, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, © ADAGP, Paris

Dorothea Rockburne — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Dorothea Rockburne, I am Pascal, 1986-1987, oil and charcoal on gessoed linen, 220.35 x 243.21 x 12.7 cm, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, © ADAGP, Paris

Dorothea Rockburne — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Dorothea Rockburne, Line and Substance, 2017, watercolor wax crayon on paper with copper wire on copper mount, 22.86 x 15.24 cm, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, © ADAGP, Paris

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