While bouts of pneumonia often confined her in early childhood, Rockburne soon became an avid attendant of weekend art classes at Montreal’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Her formal art training continued at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where Rockburne found her work influenced by peers Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and modern-dance pioneer Merce Cunningham.
In New York City, Rockburne participated in various dance classes and joined innovative performing artists Steve Paxton, Carolee Schneemann, and former classmate Rauschenberg in the Judson Dance Theater Collective. Rockburne’s first one-woman exhibition, held in New York in 1970, launched her career as a full-time visual artist.
Since then she has produced numerous series of largely monochromatic works known as painted structures, inspired by such diverse sources as the Golden Section, Italian Renaissance frescoes, and Mandelbrot’s ideas about fractals. Rockburne’s body of work is unified by her desire to reveal processes; her creations are neither drawings nor paintings nor sculptures, but reside amid these categories.
Rockburne has taught in New York, Maine, and Rome; won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts; and had important solo shows in Europe, Canada, and the United States, including a major 1989 retrospective at Brandeis University.