Roman Opalka (Polish/French, 1931–2011) was a leading Conceptual artist best known for his series of numerical paintings. A few years after his birth in Hocquincourt, France, he and his Polish family returned to their motherland, only to be deported to Germany by National Socialists in 1940. In 1946, the Opalka family was liberated by the US Army, and they returned to Poland once again. Opalka began an apprenticeship as a lithographer at Walbrzych Nowa Ruda Graphic School, Poland, and, in 1949, he began his studies at the Lódz School of Art and Design, Poland. In 1956, the artist received a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he had studied since 1950.

Opalka was inspired by Neo-Constructivists early on in his career. These early paintings, which the artist referred to as “Chronomes,” were made up of dabs and zigzags created using monochrome paint. The artist’s lifetime work of consecutive numerical paintings began in 1965, and by 1970 he had devoted himself to the goal of reaching infinity. Before he settled in southern France in 1977, Opalka was granted the DAAD Scholarship in Berlin, Germany. The artist spent most of his life working from his home in France; Opalka rarely traveled because he wanted to continue painting his famous numerical canvases.

There are 233 “details” in this series titled OPALKA 1965/1 – 8, all having the same measurements of 196 x 135 cm. The works in this series are all in shades of black, gray, and white. At first, Opalka used a black background on his canvases, and he painted the numbers using white paint and the smallest brush he could find. The artist would paint around 400 numbers a day, and after a few years he began photographing himself in front of his paintings at the end of a work day. By 1972 he had begun to record his voice calling out the numbers he painted onto the canvas. At this time he also changed the background color of the works in the series to gray, and he added one percent more white paint to every canvas; by 2008, the background and the numbers were virtually the same shade of white. Before his death, Opalka reached past the number 5,500,000. These numerical paintings were very important to Opalka because he viewed them as his life in time or time in life. His paintings reference passing time and how long time exists, while his photographs reference the artist’s life as seen through the progression of these numbers. Opalka died while on a trip to Rome on August 6, 2011.

Timeline

1931
Born in Hocquincourt, France to Polish parents
1949
Kunstgewerbeschule Lodz, Poland
1950–1956
Kunstakademie Warsaw, Poland
1965
Begins the series OPALKA 1965/1-infinity
1979
-present, lives and works in Bazérac/Tournon d’Agenais in Southwest France.

Exhibitions

2002
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, England
2002
L'ART D'AUJOURD'HUI: UN CHOIX DANS LA COLLECTION DU FONDS NATIONAL D'ART
2002
CONTEMPORAIN, Musée de Grenoble, France
2002
VANITÉS CONTEMPORAINES, L'Arsenal, Soissons, France; Chapelle des Ursulines, Quimperlé; Musée Ziem, Martigues, France
2002
SPECIAL INSTALLATION OF PROTOTYPE FOR "L'OCTOGONE OPALKA", realized by Jean Nouvel, Morat, France
2002
1968 - 1977, L'ART EN CAUSE(S), CAPC, Bordeaux, France
2002
KUNST 2002 - ZURICH, Galerie Zéro, l'Infini, Zurich, Switzerland
2002
NONCOMPOSITION: 15 CASE STUDIES, Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford CT,
2002
IN BETWEEN: ART FROM POLAND 1945 – 2000, Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
2002
CAMOSHOW, Kunstmuseum, Wiesbaden, Germany
2002
ROMAN OPALKA: PAINTING, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND SOUND, Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla, CA (solo)
2002
Grant Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA (solo)
2001
PERMANENT INSTALLATION BY ROMAN OPALKA OF OPALKA 1965 /1-infinty, Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Lodz, Poland (solo)
2001
OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinty, Galerie Foksal, Warsaw, Poland (solo)
2001
OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinty, Espace Renn, Paris, France (solo)
2001
Hommage pour ses 70 ans à Roman Opalka, OPALKA 1965 / 1- infinty, Musée de l’Architecture, Wroclaw, Poland (solo)
2001
OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinty, Verrière, Fondation Hermès, Brussels, Belgium (solo)
2001
DANS LA SÉRIE DES MAÎTRES : ROMAN OPALKA, “OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinty,” Kasa Galerie, Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey (solo)
1999
OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinty , Katowice Galerie, Katowice, Poland; Medienzentrum der Verlagsgruppe Passau, St.-Anna-Kapelle, Passau, Germany (solo)
1998
ART CONTEMPORANI EN ESPAIS PUBLICS, Musée des Beaux Arts, Vilafranca del Penedès, Spain (solo)

Literature

2000
50 Jahre Kunst aus mittel Europa (50 Years of Art in Central Europe): 1949-1999, (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wien) pp.225; Roman Opalka pp. 119, 229-230.
1999
Das XX Jahrhundert: ein Jahre hundert Kunst in Deutschland, (National Galerie, Berlin, Germany) 668 pp; Roman Opalka pg. 373.
1999
Opalka, Roman, OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinty DETAIL-5240852, with a forward by Loránd Hegyi, Prestel Verlag: 1999, 140 pp.
1998
…Roman Opalka der beifreite Sisyphos, Städtische Galerie, Altes Theater Ravensburg, Canz Ostfildern-Ruit Verlag: 1998, 128pp.
1997
Made in France 1947 - 1997, (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France) Roman Opalka pg. 17.
1996
Roman Opalka: OPALKA 1965/1-infinty, (Gallery ISM, Gaain Gallery, Seoul, South Korea) pg. 63.
1996
Pietkiewicz, Ewa & Marek. Roman Opalka, (Modulus, Krakow, Poland) pg.116.
1996
Noël, Bernard, Roubaud, Jacques and Savinel, Christine, Roman Opalka, Dis Voir: 1996, 132 pp.
1995
Fréchuret, Maurice; Hegyi, Lorand; Jedlinski, Jaromir; Kawalska, Bozena; Swierszcz. Roman Opalka, Opalka1965/1-infinty, (Zacheta Gallery of Contemporary Art, Warsaw, Poland) pg. 100.
1994
Honisch, Dieter. Roman Opalka OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinty , (Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany) pg.48.
1994
Fréchuret, Maurice, “La Machine a Piendre,” Jaqueline Chambon (Marseille): 1994.
1993
Werner, Stanislav, A Conversation with Roman Opalka, Verlag Sabine Zauner (Dachau): 1993, 48 pp.
1992
Opalka, Roman, Roman Opalka, "OPALKA 1965 / 1 -infinity”, with an essay by Christian Schlater, Flammarion 4 / La Hune (Paris): 1992.
1991
Opalka, Roman, Recontre par la separation – Begegnung durch Trennung, Verlag Walter Storms (Munich): 1991.
1990
L'art conceptuel, une perspective, (ARC Musée d'Art moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris ) 256 pp.; Roman Opalka : pg. 220.
1990
Opalka, Roman, OPALKA 1965 / 1 - infinity, Verlag Ottenhausen (Munich): 1990, 148 pp.
1988
Guyot, Gérard. Opalka, rencontre par la séparation, (Centre culturel de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina) pg. 140.
1987
Fifty Years of Collecting : an Anniversary Selection, Painting since World War II, (The Salomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY) 152 pp.
1976
Bonito Oliva, Achille, Europe/America,: The Different Avant-Gardes, Ed. Franco Maria Ricci, Deco Press (Milan): 1976, pp.304; Opalka p. 225.