Dieter Roth was a singularly creative and reclusive figure who worked as a sculptor, painter, printmaker, book artist, filmmaker, and poet. He continually challenged conventions as his work evolved through several styles encompassing Op, Pop, Kinetic, Fluxus, and Conceptual art movements. The inventive use of unusual materials, such as food, earth, and excrement, often characterized his work, and the concepts of process and change exemplified by his decomposing elements—from chocolate to mayonnaise—became the central motifs of his art.
Roth began printmaking as a teenager and quickly learned to manipulate and layer the techniques in unconventional ways. His extremely prolific body of work numbers more than five hundred print projects encompassing nearly every medium, all of which he pushed to their virtual limits. His experimentation included altering the printing sequence of plates and colors or "pressing" and "squashing" organic materials onto his surfaces, creating numerous unique variations. He also completed more than one hundred artist's books, many of which allow for viewer interaction. Roth collaborated with a wide gamut of printers but developed several longstanding intensive relationships with Hartmut Kaminski in Düsseldorf, Karl Schulz in Braunschweig, and Petersburg Press in London, each resulting in an extended body of work.
The postcard became an important artistic vehicle for Roth when he moved to Iceland in 1957 and began his extensive correspondence with friends and colleagues abroad. In the early 1960s he discovered a friend's collection illustrating Piccadilly Circus, which inspired a series of prints and books culminating in the portfolio 6 Piccadillies. He enlarged and photolithographed one of the postcards on both sides of heavy paper boards. He then screenprinted on top of each in a dazzling array of colors and patterns that alternately intensify and camouflage this scene of teeming humanity and bustling urban life.
Narrator: Roth moves frequently between his studios in Reykjavík, Basel and Hamburg. In 1969 he works in London. During a visit at the house of the artist Richard Hamilton, a frequent collaborator, he finds a postcard of Piccadilly Circus.
Curator, Gary Garrels: Roth loved the idea of Piccadilly Circus, this activity at the center of London. It is a circle, a spiral, something around which life revolves. Circus also is a carnival, a theatrical, dramatic presentation. It's all these kinds of plays that Roth is interested in. He made a series of six prints from the postcard, using unorthodox materials again: Chocolate, or tar, using the paint itself, the pigments, like organic materials, changing, transforming, calling attention to an image, obliterating it.
Narrator: Roth delights in manipulating existing imagery, reworking photographic postcards and sending them to his friends around the world.
Artist, Dieter Roth (read by actor): To facilitate my correspondence, I, Dieter Roth, have been painting over postcards for a quarter of a century, since painting and drawing on unmarked paper is harder to do than on paper with something already on it [...]