In 1947, Roth began an apprenticeship in commercial art in Bern. After seeing an exhibition of Paul Klee's work, he gradually moved from the style of commercial art towards international modernism.
In 1953, Dieter began to collaborate with Marcel Wyss and Eugen Gomringer on the magazine Spirale. Most of his work at this time was in the prevailing Concrete art idiom, exemplified by Max Bill. The following year, in 1954, Roth started to make experimental works, including his first baked sculpture (a spiral made from bread dough), forays into Op art and kinetic sculptures. During the late 1950s, Roth began publishing a series of highly influential artist's books and to publish these books he founded, with Icelandic poet Einar Bragi, the publishing company forlag ed.
In 1960, Dieter exhibited at Arthur Köpcke’s gallery in Copenhagen and at the Festival d’Art d’Avant-garde in Paris and also began an itinerant lifestyle, exhibiting and working throughout Europe, Iceland and America, a pattern he would continue for the rest of his life. During this period, the artist made pictures and objects, that incorporated chocolate and other edible materials subject to decomposition — meditations on time, decay and metamorphosis.
In 1964, Roth was commissioned, alongside several other artists, to paint a portrait of the collector and dealer Carl Laszlo to celebrate his fortieth birthday. This became the first of his celebrated biodegradable works.
Dieter Roth's first one-man show was mounted by the Museum College of Art in Philadelphia in September 1964. At this time, Roth began working with chocolate and would continue to use organic materials, for instance in his mildew pictures, so-called "zerfallobjekten and-bilder" ("Decay objects and pictures") and "Gewürzbildern" ("Spice pictures").
In the mid-1960s, like many of his contemporaries in Fluxus, Pop art and Arte Povera, Dieter began to produce a series of multiples — these editioned sculptural pieces were distinguished by an unorthodox approach to materials.
In 1970, for his first exhibition in the United States, the artist exhibited a series of 37 suitcases filled with cheese on the floor, below pictures made with cheese on the wall. Called Staple Cheese (A Race), a pun on Steeple Chase, the suitcases were to be opened one a day, whilst the wall pictures included a horizontal line, tracking the vertical movement of the cheeses as they slid toward it.
The mid-1970s saw a comprehensive attempt to republish all of Roth's bookworks. Instigated by Hansjörg Mayer, a publisher Roth had met in 1963, the Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works) would run to 26 volumes, many of which are still easily available across Europe and America.
In 1975, Roth founded the Zeitschrift fur Alles, a journal.
During the 1980s and the 1990s, Roth's installations became larger and more open-ended. After 1980, they were often created in collaboration with his son Bjorn and other artists, who would also contribute to the pieces.
In 1982, the artist represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale.
During his lifetime, Roth taught for some years at prestigious institutions in the United States, Britain and Germany — in the architecture department of Yale University, at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, at the Watfort School of Art in London and the Dusseldorf Art Academy.
Sea Behind Battle of Iceland Glass
Self-Portrait as a Drowning Man
A Feminine Thought I
By the Sea
View of the Emme
Postcard (Hyde Park)
Ars Alpina I
When G Dug into the Toys he Struck Terrible Shit
Malego by the Sea
Course of the World
Selbstbildnis als Pariser (Self-Portrait as Parisian)
Self-Portrait as a Flower Pot
Graphic with Cocoa
By the Sea, from Behind
My Eye is a Mouth
Torte in der Sonne (Fancy-Cake In the Sun)
Self-Portrait at a Table
Seminar (in collaboration with Richard Hamilton)
Double Self-Portrait of the Artist
3 Cakes on Swivel Chairs
Self-Portrait as Pile of Dog Dirt
Self Portrait (D.111)
Probelauf (Trial Run)
Self-Portrait as Jealous Tiger
Big Tardt for Richard
Auf Wiedersehn Sharpie (D.244)
"An eyewitness account is evidence that an artist has proposed a work of art. But documentary evidence (i.e. a photograph) is more conclusive."
"If you can't draw something, just draw it."
"Faced with a choice, do both."
In 1957, Roth married Sigriour Bjornsdottir. The couple gave birth to three children — Karl, Björn and Vera. Some time later, while in the United States, Dieter divorced Sigridur, but remained on good terms with the family.