Roman Opałka, born on August 27, 1931 in France to Polish parents, began recording
a progression of numbers beginning with one and having the end goal of infinity (if you
can consider that an end goal). In 1968 Opałka took his process of counting one step
farther by taping himself speak each number into the microphone as he painted it, and
also began taking passport-style photographs of himself standing before the canvas at
the end of each day’s work. It was a ritual bookkeeping of time passing. Opałka’s process
was endless, but if measured against its goal of infinity – it wasn’t. Opałka explains, “the
problem is that we are, and are about not to be.” I am a believer in the art of repetition.
Often, when something is done enough, it gains the respect of the viewer simply because
of the overwhelming thought of someone’s invested time into creating so much of one thing.
It’s amazing that this man could spend so much time on a project, which only made sense
if viewed as a whole. With infinity as the end point to this project, Im curious to know if his
project will be passed on to someone else. Opałka died while in Rome on August 6, 2011,
three weeks before his 80th birthday.
“The fundamental basis of my work, to which I have dedicated
my life, manifests itself in a process of recording a progression
that both documents time and also defines it. It began on a single date in 1965, the one on which I undertook my first Detail.”
Each “Detail” is a part of a greater idea conceived on that date.
My work records the progression to infinity, through the first
and the last number painted on the canvas.
I inscribe the progression of numbers beginning with one, proceeding to infinity, on canvases of the same size, 77 x 53in. (196 x 135cm)
in white by hand with a paintbrush. Since 1972, I have been making each canvas’ background about 1% whiter each time. Thus the moment will arrive when I will paint white on white. Since 2008,
I have painted in white on a white background, which I call
“blanc mérité” (white well earned).
After each work session in my studio, I take a photograph of
my face in front of the “Detail” that I have been working on.
Each “Detail” is accompanied by a tape recording of my voice
saying the numbers out loud as I write them”. - Roman Opałka