Roman Opalka, the French-born Conceptualist painter based in France and Italy, died on Aug. 6 near Rome, after a brief illness, just three weeks before his 80th birthday. A key figure in the Conceptualist movement during the mid-1960s, Opalka was fixated on the notion of infinity. His obsessive, lifelong project was to paint the numerals consecutively, one to infinity. Beginning in 1965 in his Warsaw studio, he devoted his life to carrying out the plan.
Neatly hand-painted with white acrylic on canvas, the numbers appear mechanically precise. Evenly spaced in small, horizontal rows, they were first set against black backgrounds, but in later years, the artist shifted to subtle gray grounds. The numbers fill vertical canvases identical in size, about 6 by 4 feet, with 20,000–30,000 numerals packed into a single canvas. According to the New York Times, he had painted 5.5 million numbers by 2004.
Despite the repetitive look of the work, Opalka had a passionate approach to his art. He spoke the numbers while he painted them, documenting the process with photos and audio recordings.
Opalka showed with Yvon Lambert in Paris and, for many years, at John Weber in New York. His most recent exhibitions opened last spring at the Museo Correr and Galleria Michela Rizzo in Venice, where he resided for part of each year.
OPALKA 1965/1–Detail 5445125 [self-portrait, 2011]. Courtesy Galleria Michela Rizzo