In 1965, Roman Opalka began his mission to paint the numbers from 1 to infinity consecutively. In that year, on a black canvas, he painted the number 1 in the upper left corner with a tiny brush and white paint. He continued this practice through 233 canvases over more than forty years. The title of this monumental work is “1965/1- ∞”. Each of the individual canvases is simply titled “Détails”. There are between 20,000 and 30,000 numbers on each canvas. In 1968 the artist switched to a gray background, then after counting to one million, he added 1 percent more white pigment to each new background until 2008 when the work became white on white.
The Dominique Lévy Gallery on the Upper East side of Manhattan is exhibiting a selection of paintings from “1965/1-∞”, as well photographs of the artist that he took everyday in front of the canvas on which he was currently working. This photo documentation of time passing and the artist aging, creates an especially poignant message. There was no way for Opalka to actually reach infinity in his paintings. It is the poetic nature of these canvases that relates the spirituality of counting. The artist addresses the importance of numbers in the human psyche to signify progression.The concentration required to physically paint this list of consecutive numerical digits seems like a meditation on both time and mortality.
Pictures courtesy of the gallery and the artist.
More MathArt next time,