Acquired from the above by the present owner
London, Christie’s Mayfair, Roman Opalka: The End is Defined, January – April 2015, p. 65, illustrated
Opalka began his astonishing magnum opus in 1965, when he commenced painting the numbers one through to infinity on a series of canvases, a task the artist referred to as “a philosophical and spiritual image of the progression of time and of life and death” (Roman Opalka cited in: The Telegraph, Obituary, 26th August 2011, online resource). The numbers on each canvas progressed in horizontal rows from the upper left and concluded at the lower right corner, with each successive painting beginning where the previous one left off. As the integers mounted up their chromatic intensity waned as Opalka's brush was depleted of paint before being replenished once again to inscribe initially brighter numbers. The works are each labelled 1965/1-∞, Detail followed by the first and last number on the canvas, marking the year Opalka began his enterprise and, by signifying one to infinity, implicating the purely hypothetical nature of the Infinite. As a concept we are unable to truly imagine, Opalka succeeded in visualising the Infinite in the purest sense possible, through numerical delineations marking the inexorable passage of time. Although attaining infinity is a theoretical impossibility, Opalka’s painstaking attempt to transcribe every possible number that ever has - or shall - exist was epic in scope: a task that serves to broaden the mind and expand the mental horizons of all who contemplate the result.
On attaining the milestone of a million painted digits in 1972, Opalka began photographing himself before each work: these portraits, which documented his process of ageing, became the means by which his ambitions of interminability were confronted by the inevitability of his own mortality. Although Opalka began by painting white numbers on a black background, in 1968 he changed to a grey background, a colour he believed to be more neutral, and in the early 1970s he decided to add one percent more white to this grey ground with each new 'Detail,’ the increasing whiteness of the paint being intended to signify the infinity that his numbers could never, ultimately, denote. Towards the end of this endeavour, in 2008, the canvases had become entirely white, rendering the on-going stream of numerals near invisible. Opalka’s astounding corpus compresses concepts of time and space into a single defined moment, an idea the artist discussed with reference to the very beginning of his project: “In my concept… the always finished part of my oeuvre dates from 1965: the sign 1, laid on the first Detail, there is already all” (Roman Opalka cited in: Christine Savinel, Jacques Roubaud and Bernard Noël, Eds., Roman Opalka, Paris 1996, p. 17). Within Opalka’s entire oeuvre, OPALKA 1965/1 – ∞ Détail 3843982 – 3864277 stands as an impressive record of the artist’s astonishing philosophical and creative feat: a unique and unsurpassed record of a constant striving towards the infinite, and correspondingly, of immortality itself.
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