Dorothea Rockburne was raised in Montreal. She received scholarships to the Montreal Museum School and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts before studying at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she met Max Dehn, a theoretical mathematician who had a profound effect on her thinking. In 1956 she received her B.F.A. and moved to New York.
Rockburne has utilized the concept of the mathematical set (defined as the totality of all points or numbers that satisfy a given condition) to explore perceptions of abstract relationships. She has focused on the epistemological role of language, especially verbal cognates, such as "if", "some", and "or" as crucial elements in the comprehension of relationships. Rockburne has logically investigated permutations of form, fold, line, and color within the constraints of a defined series of visual components. Placing attention on concrete nouns such as "painting," "print," and "drawing," she forces the viewer to establish anew the link between ideas and materials always generate further possibilities.
Prior to her collaboration with Gemini, Rockburne's experience in printmaking was confined to etching, specifically, the six Locus Etchings executed at Crown Point Press and published by Parasol Press in 1975. The first of Rockburne's one-woman shows was held at Bykert Gallery, New York (1970). She has also exhibited in important group shows, including Eight Contemporary Artist at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1974).