The French-Polish artist Roman Opalka was born in Hocquincourt (Picardie, Northern France) on 27 August, 1931. The family left France and returned to Poland in 1935, however, they were deported to Germany in World War II by German National Socialists. After the end of the war the then 15 year old Roman Opalka returned to Poland where he started an apprenticeship as a lithographer at the art school in Nova Ruda. Two years later he changed to the School of Applied Arts in Lodz, where he studied until 1950. From 1950 to 1956 Roman Opalka attended the Warsaw Art Academy.
Roman Opalka's early work comprises just a few paintings, which are documents of the artist's quest for an appropriate form of artistic expression, they are geared at Constructivism and abstract painting of the mid 20th century. The color white and the horizontal structure of his mostly monochrome works occupy an important position in his artistic creation.
The year 1965 marks the beginning of Roman Opalka's main work. The title "1965 / 1-Infinity" describes the concept of the picture's object: on canvases in an ever same size of 196 x 135 cm, which are primed in a dark gray tone, Roman Opalka writes running numbers, from 1 to infinity, with a very thin brush from upper left to lower right. In this respect "infinity" is determined by the end of the artist's life or the exhaustion of the artist's strength. Every filled canvas, which marks a section of numbers and a period of his life, is described as a "Detail" by Roman Opalka.
Since 1970 Roman Opalka has been working exclusively on the continuation of "1965 / 1-Infinity" and has honed the concept. As of 1972 Roman Opalka began to add 1% more white to the priming of every new canvas. Additionally, he included the usage of other media by recording the spoken number on tape simultaneously to writing it out on the picture. At the end of every day he shoots a photograph of himself, which shows the artist in the ever same white shirt and with the same facial expression in front of the canvas that he has been working on that day.
His first single exhibition took place in Warsaw in 1966. In 1972 Roman Opalka participated in the first Biennale di Venezia and in 1977 in the documenta 6 in Kassel. In 1976/77 he stayed in Berlin on a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service. Afterwards the artist moved to Southern France with his partner Marie-Madeleine Gazeau and accepted French citizenship in 1985.
Roman Opalka occupies a unique position within 20th century art, which has been proven by the great international recognition as well as by numerous awards and honors. Like hardly any other artist he pursues the aim to connect his life and art and to make it comprehensible in a phenomenological way. It is through his concept of art that the end of a life and the completion of a work of art gain a new meaning.
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