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Dorothea Rockburne – Introducing Mathematics into 20th Century Optical Art

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I posted an article about how abstract expressionism often includes geometric components; and how when the geometric elements exclude the expressionistic elements, or even if they just predominate, I label the work Optical Expressionism (in the second case) or simply Optical Art (in the first case).  See that article here. 

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Piet Mondrian, Hans Hofmann, and Victor Vasarely are widely recognized as pioneers in the fine art of the 20th century, and they were early masters of optical expressionism and optical art, for example: 

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Based on the dates of her paintings at artnet’s Artist Works Catalogues, Dorothea Rockburne started painting optical art works in the mid-1970’s, and her optical paintings fall into an early period (from about 1974 to 1985), and a late period (from about 1990 to 1995).  These works are remarkably different from the works of Mondrian, Hofmann, and Vasarely; and they must have been and still be, viewed by mathematicians and students generally as remarkable.   

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This is Wikipedia’s entry for Rockburne:  Dorothea Rockburne (born c.1932 in Montreal, Canada) is an abstract painter drawing inspiration primarily from her deep interest in mathematics and astronomy.  In 1950 she moved to the United States to attend Black Mountain College where she studied with mathematician Max Dehn, a life long influence on her work.  In addition to Dehn, she studied with Franz Kline, Philip Guston, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham.  She also met fellow student Robert Rauschenberg.  In 1955, Rockburne moved to New York City where she met many of the leading artists and poets of the time.  In 1971 she had her first solo exhibition at the Bykert Gallery.  Rockburne is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design. 

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And the artist’s comment on creating art: "Personally, as part of the creative process, I always title a work before I make it. In that way, from the outset, I know exactly what it is. I try to work with inspiration, intuition, knowledge and magic. It is a journey, inward and outward, deeply personal and yet having a commonality. And when I am through there is a painting, an object with dimension, and yet the real object exists as the experience I have gained in making the painting. The painting itself then contains everything I know and am at that moment and since I am always changing, the paintings are always changing." - Dorothea Rockburne, 1989 

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First, there follow six of Rockburne’s paintings from her early period (two are watercolors, as indicated in their titles): 

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And six paintings and installations from Rockburne’s later period: 

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(The images of pictures by Piet Mondrian, Hans Hofmann, and Victor Vasarely are from Wikipedia.  The quotation by Dorthea Rockburne and the other images are presented courtesy of the artist and courtesy of artnet’s Artist Works Catalogues.  At artnet’s A.W.C., there is this: “artnet offers these catalogues free to the public as an educational resource. Simply click on an individual artist's image to begin, and check back often to browse new catalogues.”)  

 

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 

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