Roman Opalka
I guess “paint by numbers” wouldn’t be an accurate description. It was really painting with numbers or just plain painting numbers.

Roman Opalka, who dipped his brushes in the paintpot of infinity, died a few days ago at age 79, which means that either he didn’t make it to eternity and forever…or he’s there now.. or he’s still progressing along his endless path toward some never-reached destination.

About fifty years ago, you see, Roman Opalka, living in Warsaw, began a painting. Using a fine-tipped brush, he began painting numerals on a 4-foot-by-6-foot canvas, white numerals in straight rows on a black background, working from top left corner to bottom right corner.

And that’s what he did for the rest of his life. Each canvas after that continued the sequence of numerals. By 2004, he had reached 5,500,000. Five-and-a-half million!

According to his New York Times obituary, in 1968 Opalka took a major step — he changed the backgrounds from black to gray.

In 1972, after he passed 1,000,0000, he began gradually lightening the gray with white plait until, by 2008, he was painting white numerals on a white background. In 1972, he also began saying each number into a tape recorder and took snapshots of himself in front of each completed painting.

Each painting had the same title: Opalka 1965/1 — ∞.

“All my work is a single thing, the description from one to infinity,” Mr. Opalka once wrote. “A single thing, a single life.”

What was it all about? Our journey from here to infinity…or eternity…or oblivion.

“Time as we live it and as we create it embodies our progressive disappearance,” Opalka once explained. “We are at the same time alive and in the face of death — that is the mystery of all living beings.”

5,500,001…5,500,002, 5,500,003, 5,500,004, 5,500,005…et cetera.


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