Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1933, Iannone graduated from Boston University in 1957 with a B.A. in American Literature. She went on to study English Literature at the graduate level at Brandeis University. In 1958 she married the painter James Upham and the couple moved to New York City. The following year, Iannone began to paint alongside her husband. Iannone exhibited her work frequently between 1963 and 1967 at the Stryke Gallery, an exhibition space she ran with her husband in New York when they were not traveling and working in Europe and Asia. On a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland in 1967, Iannone met the artist Dieter Roth. She and her husband separated and Iannone lived with Roth in Düsseldorf, Reykjavik, Basel and London until 1974. She spent two years in southern France before relocating to Berlin in 1976 where she continues to live and work today. Her work has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions in the United States and across Europe throughout her life.
Dorothy Iannone's œuvre, which now spans more than fifty years, includes painting and visual narrative, autobiographical texts and films. Since the 1960s she has been seen as a pioneering spirit against censorship, for free love and autonomous female sexuality. The artist's great theme is ecstatic love. The paintings, visual narratives, texts and books by this pioneer of women's sexual and intellectual emancipation draw uncompromisingly on her own life. Iannone's art frequently fell foul of the censors because of allegedly pornographic content. And yet her depictions of the sexual union between man and woman have an unmistakably mystical dimension rooted in the spiritual and physical union of opposites. This anchors her visual universe within cultural history and lends a modern, personal interpretation to Eastern religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, Indian Tantrism and Christian ecstatic traditions like those of the seventeenth-century Baroque.