In 1965, Roman Opalka initiated what has become a lifelong project, OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞. Taking a 78” x 54 “ canvas painted black, Opalka painted a white “1” in the upper left corner. He continued to apply these white numbers in sequence, always left to right, row after row, until he reached the bottom right corner. The next canvas began with the next consecutive number and so on. This has been Opalka’s project, to paint the unrelenting march of time or even the passage of his own life and photograph himself at the end of each day’s work. The project also has an audio component: Opalka speaks each number into a microphone as he paints it. Each consecutive painting has 1% more white in its background, so that recently completed canvases are almost white on white.
While philosophers may still debate the idea of progress, Opalka has been giving form to its existence for over 35 years. Jeffrey Deitch, in his Pulitzer Prize winning essay on Opalka, summed up the poignancy of the artist’s progress: “Numerically, Opalka is progressing toward infinity. Visually, he is moving onward into whiteness. Spiritually, he is attempting to move closer to enlightenment.”