* 1931 Hocquincourt
† 2011 Rom
Roman Opalka was born on 27 August, 1931 in Hocquincourt in the French region Picardie. Together with his Polish parents he returned to Poland in 1935. However, the family was deported to Germany by the National Socialists in 1940. In 1946 Roman Opalka was able to return to Poland, where he began an apprenticeship as a lithographer in Nova Roda (formerly Neuburg, Silesia). In 1949/50 Roman Opalka studied at the Lodz School of Applied Arts. He met his first wife Alina Piekarczyk in 1950. From 1950 to 1956 Roman Opalka studied at the Warsaw Art Academy. In 1957 the artist traveled to Paris for the first time. During the years from 1959 to 1963 he made a series of abstract and monochrome white paintings which made for his early work. In 1965 Roman Opalka began working on his main work "1965 / 1-Infinity", which is tantamount to his continuous lifework: On canvasses (196 x 135 cm) primed in a monochrome dark gray, Opalka writes running numbers in titanium white with the smallest brush available, just as if writing, he goes from upper left to lower right. He began with the number one, the aim is infinite, meaning the work could go on for as long as the artist's strengths suffice. Each finished canvas is a "Detail" of the complete work of art. As of 1970 Roman Opalka has been exclusively focussed on the continuation of this work. Since 1972 Roman Opalka has added one percent more white to the gray priming of every new "Detail" canvas, so that the priming of every canvas is lighter and the numbers contrast less. In addition to the canvasses, he made recordings of the running numbers on audio tapes, the written and the spoken number are recorded simultaneously. From an early point on the artist began to shoot a picture of himself at the end of the work day, always wearing the same white shirt, in the ever same situation in front of the canvas he has just been working on and with the same expression on his face.
The consequence with which Roman Opalka follows the concept of his art, the connection between work and artist life in the ongoing work "1965 / 1-Infinity" is unique in 20th century art. In 1966 the first one man show took place in Warsaw. In 1972 Roman Opalka showed works at the Venice Biennale, In 1977 he participated in the documenta 6 in Kassel. In 1976 he received a one year scholarship for an academic stay in Berlin. Also in 1976 he met Marie-Madeleine Gazeau, who became his partner. In 1977 they moved to Southern France, where Opalka accepted French citizenship in 1985. Roman Opalka was awarded numerous prizes and honors for his artistic creation, for instance the Prix National de la Peinture in 1991 and in 1993 the "Kaiserring" from the city of Goslar. Between 1985 and 1990 Opalka was guest lecturer at the Salzburg Summer Academy. Roman Opalka lived and worked in Bazérac in Southern France befor he died in 2011 in Rome.