Opałka in 1995
August 27, 1931|
Hocquincourt, Somme, France
|Died||August 6, 2011
|Known for||Painting Contemporary Art|
|Awards|| • 2009 Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters, Paris
• 2009 Gold Medal of the Cultural Merit « Gloria Artis », Warsaw
• 1996 Special Prize of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland
• 1993 Kaiserring, Goslar, Poland
• 1991 National Prize of Painting, Paris
Opałka was born on August 27, 1931, in Abbeville-Saint-Lucien, France, to Polish parents. The family returned to Poland in 1946 and Opałka studied lithography at a graphics school before enrolling in the School of Art and Design in Lodz. He later earned a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He moved back to France in 1977. Opałka lived in Teille, near Le Mans, and Venice. He died at age 79 after falling ill while on holiday in Italy. He was admitted to a hospital near Rome and died there a few days later, on August 6, 2011, three weeks before his 80th birthday.
In 1965, in his studio in Warsaw, Opałka began painting numbers from one to infinity. Starting in the top left-hand corner of the canvas and finishing in the bottom right-hand corner, the tiny numbers were painted in horizontal rows. Each new canvas, which the artist called a 'detail', took up counting where the last left off. Each 'detail' is the same size (196 x 135 cm), the dimension of his studio door in Warsaw. All details have the same title, "1965 / 1 – ∞"; the project had no definable end, and the artist pledged his life to its ongoing execution: 'All my work is a single thing, the description from number one to infinity. A single thing, a single life', 'the problem is that we are, and are about not to be'. He had contemplated and tried many different ways to visualize time before settling on this life's work.
Over the years there were changes to the process. In Opałka's first details he painted white numbers onto a black background. In 1968 he changed to a grey background 'because it's not a symbolic colour, nor an emotional one', and in 1972 he decided he would gradually lighten this grey background by adding 1 per cent more white to the ground with each passing detail. He expected to be painting virtually in white on white by the time he reached 7,777,777 (He did not use commas or number breaks in the works): 'My objective is to get up to the white on white and still be alive.' As of July 2004, he had reached 5.5 million. Adopting this rigorously serialized approach, Opałka aligned himself with other artists of the time who explored making art through systems and mathematics, like Daniel Buren, On Kawara, and Hanne Darboven. He was represented in Paris and New York by Yvon Lambert  and in Venice by Galleria Michela Rizzo.
In 1968 Opałka introduced to the process a tape recorder, speaking each number into the microphone as he painted it, and also began taking passport-style photographs of himself standing before the canvas after each day's work.
The final number he painted was 5,607,249.
Opałka participated in many of the art world’s most important international exhibitions, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 1977; the Sao Paolo Bienal in 1987; and the Venice Biennale, in 1995, 2003, 2011 and 2013. He was represented in Paris and New York by Yvon Lambert, in Venice by Galleria Michela Rizzo and, for many years, at John Weber in New York.
In 2003, Les Rencontres d'Arles exhibited his work through "L’œuvre photographique"'s exhibition (the curator was Alain Julien-Laferrière).
Opałka won the celebrated Grand Prize of the 7th International Biennial of Arts and Graphics of Cracow in 1969, the C. K. Norwid Art Critics Award in 1970, Franceʼs National Painting Prize in 1991 and Germanyʼs Kaiser Prize in 1993. He was named Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and of Letters) in France.
- Bomanowska, Marzena (August 6, 2011). "Zmarł polski malarz Roman Opałka". Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish) (Warsaw). Archived from the original on August 6, 2011.
- William Grimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/arts/design/roman-opalka-conceptual-artist-with-numerical-focus-is-dead-at-79.html?_r=1&ref=designAugust 9, 2011), [Roman Opalka, an Artist of Numbers, Is Dead at 79] New York Times.
- "Roman Opałka". The Economist. 20 August 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
- Andrew Russeth (August 9, 2011), Roman Opalka, Artist Who Painted Millions of Numbers, Dies at 79 New York Observer.
- Yvon Lambert
- Roman Opałka Official Website As of September 19, 2011, the homepage of the official website states: "On August 6th 2011, Roman Opalka completed his work". Under those words is an image of the handwritten number "5607249". The name of the image file is "lastNumber.jpg".