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White Gray Black

Dieter Roth (Swiss, born Germany. 1930–1998)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Swiss painter, collagist, draughtsman and poet. Born of a German mother and Swiss father, he was evacuated in 1943 to Zurich, where he began to draw and write poems. By 1946 he had taken up etching and oil painting and in 1947 he left the Gymnasium in St Gallen to become a graphic design apprentice at Studio Friedrich Wüthrich in Berne, where he remained until 1951. While there he experimented with linocuts, woodcuts and collage and in 1950 took private lessons in lithography from Eugen Jordi in Kehrsatz. He tried unsuccessfully to refuse military service in 1950 but, following a year of feigning madness, was discharged from the army in 1952. In 1951 he met the poet Eugen Gomringer and the Swiss painter Marcel Wyss (b 1930) and with them co-founded the review Spirale in order to publish their poetry, the first issue appearing in 1953. In 1953 he met Daniel Spoerri and through him became acquainted with the Nouveaux Réalistes as well as the Fluxus movement. Thereafter he produced occasional collaborative work into the 1970s with various Fluxus artists such as Robert Filliou, Nam June Paik, the American cellist Charlotte Moorman, Dick Higgins (b 1938), George Brecht, Emmett Williams (b 1925) and others. In common with the Fluxus movement’s desire to break established artistic boundaries and interweave art and life, in 1954 Roth produced his first baked sculpture, made from dough and exhibited in a shop window. At the same time he experimented with Op art works by designing prints using complementary colours and also in 1954 produced his first film. Other works of this period included abstract compositions influenced by Constructivism, some of which were on aluminium, as in Untitled (1954; see 1987 exh. cat., p. 15). In 1954 he made his first artist’s book, the Kinderbuch (1957), a picture book for children consisting of geometric shapes with holes cut into them to allow glimpses of the pages beneath.

In 1956 Roth went to Copenhagen, where he had been invited to work as a textile designer for the firm Unika-Væv. The following year he married and moved to Reykjavík, where he initially worked with a goldsmith and where he subsequently spent much time. In this period he began using the name Diter Rot and in 1958 had his first one-man show at the Mokka Kaffi in Reykjavík. In 1958, 1959 and 1964 various editions of his book Book were published which consisted of sheets of coloured or black-and-white paper with handcut geometrical slots in them. They were unbound so as to allow the viewer to rearrange the pages as desired. Also from the late 1950s and early 1960s he produced a number of books entitled Bok 1a, Bok 1b with numbers up to 4 and letters up to c. These had widely varying contents: Bok 2a (Reykjavík, 1960) had pages of repeated geometric designs while Bok 3a (Reykjavík, 1961) had pages of sheets cut from Icelandic newspapers. Developing his earlier theme of food, between 1961 and 1970 Roth produced three editions of Literaturwurst in which he cut up books and magazines and put the pieces in a sausage skin with spices and lard (see 1987 exh. cat., p. 70). Similarly motivated were works such as Great Sunset (1969; Bonn, Städt. Kstmus.), in which he put a slice of salami on a piece of card in two colours. This use of unusual materials extended to prints as well: in Birdplate 6 (1966; see Collected Works, vol. 20) he incorporated chocolate and grease-proof paper into the design.

In addition to this variety of media, Roth made sculptures and installations. One of the most notable of these was the installation Staple Cheese: A Race, for the Eugenia Butler Gallery in Los Angeles in 1970, which consisted of 40 suitcases filled with cheese. Throughout his career he was involved in various collaborative schemes, including partnerships with the German artist Stefan Wewerka (b 1928) and with Arnulf Rainer and Richard Hamilton. After first meeting in 1961, Roth and Hamilton worked together in the late 1960s and 1970s, mostly producing prints such as Seminar (1971; London, Tate), depicting a patchwork of fragmented objects and shapes. Also in the 1970s Roth worked with the Austrian performance artists Hermann Nitsch, Oswald Wiener and Günter Brus. Together they held several performances of Rarely Heard Music, such as that in 1974 in Berlin, in which each artist played an instrument in an unco-ordinated cacaphonic fashion. In accord with his general rejection of traditional artistic values, Roth had little concern for the permanence of his works. Often this was expressed through the use of ephemeral, organic materials, though it was also a motivation behind the series of seemingly permanent self-portrait paintings of the 1970s. Self-portrait as a Drowning Man (1974; London, Tate), for example, was painted in acrylic and watercolour with glue, a mixture he intended to flake off and deteriorate with time. In 1975, in keeping with his extremely broad conception of the nature of art, he founded the Zeitschrift für Alles, a journal whose editorial policy was to accept and publish anything submitted, whether from artists, amateurs or children. Throughout his career drawing was a consistent part of his output, leading to such works as Afternoon, Scene with Dust (1976; Basle, Kstmus.). During a trip to Chicago in 1978 he taught himself to draw with both hands, thereafter producing a number of works executed at speed which were axially symmetric.

From the 1980s onwards Roth continued to produce works in almost every medium, such as the collage Twins (1986; see 1987 exh. cat., p. 170), made from photographs, paint and other materials. After making a similar version in 1975–6, in 1982 he created Collection of Flat Waste (1982; see 1984 exh. cat., p. 17) in which he collected the waste paper of one week’s activities and placed each piece in a plastic sleeve, so forming a curious 31-volume record of a fragment of his life.


From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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