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Early life

Born in Montreal, Canada


Father born in Canada, Mother born in England


Often ill as a child, her sister teaches her to read at an early age. She becomes fascinated by her mother’s books on Egypt. In particular, the pictures of the wall reliefs. During this period, she draws and paints constantly.


Saturday’s, while in elementary school, she attends École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, where she is trained in classical Beaux-Arts art methods and techniques. She would employ these techniques later in her work. Paul-Emile Borduas was one of her teachers.


She also studies dance as a child.


Wins Merit Scholarship to the Montréal Museum School. Her teachers include Arthur Lismer and Moe Rienblatt. She wins a second scholarship in Moe Rienblatt’s drawing class. Here, an already developed rebellious streak makes it evident that further art education would need to be of a different kind. He encourages her to apply to Black Mountain College.


Receives an entrance Merit Scholarship to Black Mountain College in North Carolina.


Moves to the United States to attend Black Mountain College, the radical art school of the time. Their practices were partly formed from the principles of the Bauhaus. There she studies painting with Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Jack Tworkov, Estaban Vicente, as well as various visiting artists. She studies music with John Cage, Stephan Wolpe, and Lew Harrison, dance with Merce Cunningham, and Katherine Litz, math with renowned mathematician Max Dehn, as well as, theatre, linguistics, philosophy, literature, writing, poetry, and photography with many renowned artists of that time. Although she is younger, her classmates include Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and John Chamberlain. Dorothea’s learning experiences at Black Mountain were to provide the intellectual and artistic foundation for her future life and career.


While a student at Black Mountain, she is married.


Dorothea participates in the first “Happening” while at Black MountainCollege. It was called Untitled Event with Wes Huss, M.C. Richards, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor, Charles Olson, Mary Caroline Richards and others.


Daughter, Christine, is born


Dorothea and family move to New York City


Rauschenberg introduces her to artist Susan Weil, and a deep and lasting friendship is formed.


Separates from husband


For the first several years, she concentrates on raising and supporting herself and her daughter while painting, studying math and doing photography at night and on weekends. She summers on Cape Cod enjoying the art community there and teaches Christine to swim and sail. Here she meets many of the Beat poets, as well as artists Robert and Mary Frank, Jackie Ferrara, and Dick Bellamy who runs the famed Green Gallery. She becomes intensely involved in the New York art community who also summer there.


Through Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg she meets Jasper Johns.


Christine enters elementary school.


Works briefly in the museum store of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and quickly moves to the bookkeeping department. At one point, the Met begins to catalogue their extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities, much of which had never been done before. Dorothea helps with this project, tying in her great childhood love of Egyptian artifacts and art.



Wins Walter Gutman emerging artist award.


Divorce is final.


Moves from her uptown residence to a Tribeca loft and waitresses to support herself and Christine.


Acts in the Alfred Leslie film, “Philosophy in a Bedroom.” The film wins Venice award but the only complete copy is later destroyed when Leslie’s loft burns completely.


Feeling dissatisfied in the studio, she devotes herself almost exclusively to dance and performance art. This change in artistic focus, which would continue for the next five years, coincides with the gathering momentum of the Judson Dance Theatre. There she participates in performances by artists: Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenberg, Robert Whitman, Robert Morris and Steve Paxton. Although working and caring for Christine, she participates in the Judson activities as much as time allows.


Takes classes at the American Ballet Theatre.


Dorothea is asked to assist friend and fellow former Black Mountain student, Robert Rauschenberg, during a crucial transitional time in his studio. Though she did not intend to stay long, she works there with Brice Marden for 5 years, until she is able to concentrate on her art full time.


Participates in the Claes Oldenburg performance, Washes at Al Roon’s Health Club in New York City. Other performers were: Richard Artschwager, Sarah Dalton, Martha Edelheit, Lette Eisenhauer, Jackie Ferrara, Nancy Fish, Henry Geldzahler, Gloria Graves, Al Hansen, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Michael Kirby, Barbara Lloyd, Yvonne Mulder, Annina Nosei, Pat Muschinski Oldenburg, Richard Oldenburg, Barbara Rose, Lucas Samaras, Marjorie Strider, Elaine Sturtevant, David Whitney, and Rudy Wurlitzer. A film, called “Birth of the Flag I and II”, was then made of the performance in upstate New York.


Dancing at The Judson Dance Theatre caused her to think about the body working in space. Begins to synthesize art and math in her work, linking early formal training, her passion for mathematics, and the perception of the eye while the body moves through space. This awareness eventually results in the Set Theory installations of the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s, as well as in later work.


Begins combining art making processes with mathematical theory.


Participates in the group exhibition, “E.A.T.” at the Leo Castelli Gallery.


Meets Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Donald Judd, Mel Bochner, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimick, Carl Andre, Robert Ryman, Lucy Lippard, Fred Sandback, Brian O’Doherty, Barbara Novack, Dan Graham, Dan Flavin, and other artists.


While working for Rauschenberg, helps with the arrangements for the performance, Nine Evenings, Experiments in Art and Technology performed at the 23rd Street Armory.


Executes paintings utilizing industrial wrinkle finish paint on aluminum and pig iron. Though not widely exhibited, the work proved influential.


The women’s movement gains momentum, opening doors for women artists.


Begins to show regularly in group shows.


Daughter Christine leaves home for college in New Mexico.


Continues working with ideas of set theory which result in some of the earliest three dimensional installation work, utilizing the wall as an element of the work.


Participates in the Dwan Gallery exhibition, “Language IV.”


Shows set theory work for the first time in group shows at the Paula Cooper Gallery and Bykert Gallery. Other artists include Gordon Matta, Richard Van Buren and George Kuehn. These shows are reviewed by Robert Pinkus Witten in Artforum.


First shown at The Museum of Modern Art in a group show.


Solo exhibition at Bykert Gallery of the wall installations, Group/ And, and Disjunction/Or. Klaus Kertess, gallery owner and director, is very encouraging.


Begins the series Drawing Which Makes Itself, inspired in part by her visual memory of the track marks skiing through fresh snow. She believes that experience added significantly to her knowledge of line and drawing and using the body. Her study of topology with Max Dehn at Black Mountain College would help her to incorporate this idea into her work.


Building upon the series Drawing Which Makes Itself, she executes the Locus Etchings with Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press in San Francisco.


The Locus Etchings shown at the Stadtiches Museum (later, in 1981 at the Museum of Modern Art).


In April, she exhibits at Galerie Sonnabend in Paris, France.


That summer, she is invited to Argentina for a one person exhibition and to participate in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires. She travels to Brazil and Peru. Marvels at the archeological sites. This stacking influence is incorporated into such future work as Leveling and Scalar.


Shows Intersection in the group show, “Art of the 20th Century” at the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Joseph Beuys, also in the show, assists with the installation of this work.


Participates in two group shows at Bykert Gallery with Lynda Benglis, Porfirio Di Donna, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, and Richard Tuttle, Jan Dibbets, Agnes Martin, Eva Hesse, Ralph Humphrey, David Novros, and Alan Saret.


Solo exhibitions in Milan, Bari, and Florence, Italy. Is a part of “Documenta V” in Kassel, Germany


Begins working with carbon paper first as drawings and then as wall installations as part of the Drawing Which Makes Itself series.


“A” Drawing Which Makes Itself is bought by the Guggenheim Museum.


Receives a Guggenheim Fellowship.


Begins to lecture extensively both in the United States and abroad.


Traveling to Italy, she continues to study Italian art and to merge her classical Beaux-Arts training with contemporary art ideas.


Creates the set theory work, Neighborhood, (purchased by the Museum of Modern Art) This work is first shown at Yale University Art Gallery. Robert Pinkus-Witten reviews this exhibition for the New York Times.


Shows the carbon paper installation, Whitney Piece, in the Whitney Annual.


Exhibits at the Lisson Gallery in London, England.


In response to viewing folded paper pass through the press for the Locus Etchings, she begins to think about ways to further free herself from the formal constraints of painting. While in Italy, she had conceived of combining the rules of topology, the Golden Section, and classic painting technique. Linen is first stretched flat on the wall, gessoed on one side, varnished on the reverse, and marked according to the golden section. The linen was then cut, and folded utilizing this ancient geometry. The linen is continuous, no shape is arbitrary. This method places gessoed sections next to raw canvas. The folds are then glued together to form the structure of the painting which is then attached to the wall with Velcro. The results of these investigations are the Golden Section Paintings.


Golden Section Paintings are shown in the 1974 Museum of Modern Art show, “Eight Contemporary Artists” with Jan Dibbets, Robert Hunter, Brice Marden, Vito Acconci, Alighiero E. Boetti, Daniel Buren, and Hanne Darboven.


Receives a National Endowment for the Arts grant.


Moves from Tribeca to her present residence/studio location in Soho.


Begins the Copal series of drawings. These drawings are shown in a solo show at the John Weber Gallery in 1976, “Working with the Golden Section, Structure and Color.” In this exhibition is the first utilization of artist’s paint on folded canvases, The Robe Series from the Golden Section series.


Recipient of the Witowsky prize for painting in the 72nd American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago.


Copal #8 is bought by the Museum of Modern Art Drawing Department.


Shows large carbon paper installation in “Drawing Now” exhibition curated by Bernice Rose at the Museum of Modern Art. Exhibition travels widely.


The Golden Section Series leads to the Roman Series.


Exhibits the Robe Series from the Golden Section paintings in the Whitney Biennial.


Begins the Arena Series in an attempt to invent a new curve. Utilizing the golden section: a circle is drawn in the square and an ellipse in the rectangle which is then folded and glued. These works are drawn on a translucent folded vellum and varnished on one side, which makes the topology apparent. The translucent folds of the vellum describe different curves.


Shows Arena IV, V, and VII in the Whitney Biennial.


Executes the Egyptian Paintings which are shown in 1981 at Xavier Fourcade in New York City. In these works the line extends through the folded white canvas parts and onto the wall.


She is included in the Venice Biennale.


Travels to Egypt.


Begins extensive study of the hierarchies of angels in art and religion which are later shown in the 1982 exhibition entitled, “The Way of Angels” at the Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York, NY. Guardian Angel II, a large watercolor from this exhibition is bought by the Museum of Modern Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art buys Seraphim: Study For Love, also from this exhibition.


Begins the Inner Voice paintings including Narcissus and Exstasie. These paintings are no longer folded but painted on stretched, shaped canvases which have been layered on each other. The topological folds are implied in such a way as to impart a self-contained perspective.


Visiting Artist at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.


The Getty Trust/ Museum buys Inner Voice, Study B.


Receives the Brandeis University, Creative Arts Award

Artist invitation to the American Academy in Rome for six weeks.


Solo exhibition, “Dorothea Rockburne, Painting and Drawing, 1982-85” at Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York, NY. The Inner Voice paintings, Narcissus, Exstasie and Capernum Gate are shown at Xavier Fourcade Gallery. Caperum Gate is the first use of gold leaf.


Receives the Bard College Milton and Sally Avery Distinguished Professor Award.


Begins the Pascal series based on the philosophies of Blaise Pascal. These are shaped canvases which are stretched and layered.


Pascal paintings are shown at André Emmerich Gallery in the solo exhibition, “Pascal and Other Concerns.” Robert Storr writes a significant and widely published article on this body of work for the catalog entitled, “Rockburne’s Wager.”


Michael Brenson three page article about Rockburne’s walk through the Met is published in the New York Times in April.


Painting retrospective at the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. The catalogue contains an article by Susan Stoops and an interview with Rockburne conducted by Susan Stoops and Carl Belz.


Creates a series of large watercolors based on the Pascal paintings called Cut-Ins. These are an homage to MatisseÕs cut paper work. Exhibited with the Cut-Ins are the Memories of the Light in Egypt, works of watercolor and India ink on papyrus. Shown at André Emmerich Gallery the following year. The accompanying catalogue includes an essay by John Yau.


Begins exploring concepts of time and deep space, which for the first time, is able conceived without mathematical models


Begins the Circle in the Square works in which the structure implies time without using perspective. These paintings are shown at AndrŽ Emmerich the following year.


Becomes a United States citizen


Receives four month Artist in Residence award at the American Academy in Rome, Italy.


Further studies the frescoes of 14th century Italy and the architecture of Baromini.


Begins to study astronomy around the time of this extended stay in Italy. First astronomy works are based on viewing a frescoed 17th century astronomical ceiling sky chart in Rome, Italy. She photographs the ceiling for future reference. The Ship Curve drawings follow, combining celestial movement with Chaos Theory.


Feeling confined on smaller surfaces, she once again begins to move onto the wall to adequately express time in her work. This lays the foundation of the next ten years, which will consist of wall drawings, paintings and secco frescos for galleries and public spaces.


Solo show at the D.P.Fong & Spratt Gallery in San Jose, CA which included her first secco fresco wall painting.


Completes her first large wall commission, Sensor, at the Hilton Hotel in San Jose, CA.


Begins ten years of drawings based on astronomy that would be her exhibition of 2000 at Lawrence Rubin, Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art.


Commissioned to create frescoes and wall paintings at private residences in New York City and Connecticut.


The Museum of Modern Art acquires Scalar.


Asked by The Museum of Modern Art to speak on their retrospective Matisse exhibition.


Executes a major secco fresco work, Northern Sky, Southern Sky, in the Sky Lobby of the Philip Johnson designed, SONY headquarters in New York City. This work uses the ship curve and Chaos Theory to visualize how energy fields look in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.


Has solo exhibition, “Painting From Nature” at AndrŽ Emmerich Gallery. This was an exhibition of wall paintings executed in the secco fresco technique, which explored creativity and astronomy. One work, Gravity Wave, is painted directly on the wall combining layered panels with wall painting. Other works are painted directly on the wall, often combining walls and jumping from one room to another.RichText.


Retrospective at the Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, NY called “The Transcendent Light of Geometry.” A catalogue accompanies the exhibition with an interview by Chuck Close.


Receives a Government Services Administration commission for the new courtroom of the Edward T. Gignoux Courthouse in Portland, ME designed by the Boston architect, Andrea Leers. This secco fresco was inspired in part by the 14th century Sienese fresco, The Virtues of Good Government, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.



Receives the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers award


Receives the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Jimmy Ernst Lifetime Achievement Award in Art, May 1999


Solo exhibition at Lawrence Rubin, Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art entitled “Ten Years of Astronomy Drawings.” A catalogue accompanies this exhibition. Rockburne interview is conducted by Amy Baker Sandback.


Continues to investigate the creative aspects of mathematics and astronomy. These studies structure her drawing and painting.


Participates in the all inclusive art, music, science and astronomy exhibition entitled, “The Universe: Contemporary Art and the Cosmos” curated by Jay Belloli at the Armory Center for the Arts and the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, CA, as well as various other locations in the Los Angeles area.


Becomes a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Department of Art.

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