Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Painting is not thinking, it is the exterioration of thinking

"He began his 'From One to Infinity' project in 1965. In the top left corner of the first canvas, he painted the figure one, then two, then three. By the time he'd reached the bottom right corner he was at, I don't remember, somewhere around thirty thousand. And then he started the next canvas, painting several hundred figures a day like that for the next forty-five years. At first it might have been eccentricity, but after thirty-six years of daily, consistent, Sisyphean work, he'd produced the most brilliant expression of transience in the history of art. Or at least that's what I think."

"So do I," mumbled Lisa.

"Me too," said Zofia, raising a hand.
— from Priceless, by Zygmunt Miłoszewski.

Me too. I'd never heard of Roman Opałka till I read these pages in this thriller about recovering artworks stolen from Poland by Nazis. His career came later, of course, but this is why I enjoy reading Miłoszewski — the insights into both current and historical aspects of Polish culture.

Roman Opałka painted time, moving forward toward infinity. His life's work is a series of canvases, each of them a "Detail" of his magnum opus, 1–∞.

Listen to Opałka counting off.

See also:
Roman Opalka’s Numerical Destiny
He pursued this culmination on a daily basis, eight hours a day, until the process of painting led him to “white/white” — that is, white numbers on a canvas with a background painted white, the same as the numbers. After three years (1968, possibly 1969), Opalka began to add 1% white pigment to the black background. Gradually, over time, as more paintings were painted, the black surface would become gray. As he continued to count and to paint five, six, and seven digit numbers, he discreetly added 1% white to each canvas, thus making the surfaces appear increasingly lighter. In the late 1970s he declared that the background of his canvases would eventually appear white, the same white used to paint the numerals that would finally dissolve into the surface, embody the surface. Ultimately, there would be no distinction between the white numerals and the white surface; they would culminate as a form of blankness, possibly transcendent, as the numerals grew invisible within the prospect of infinity, the Samadhi or highest level of meditation.

[...] Opalka was clearly reaching for invisibility in his paintings.
Running the Numbers
A frequent misunderstanding about Opalka is that his engagement with painting was merely a convenience by which to execute the idea, and that the idea would be enacted over decades of time. In fact, painting was never ancillary; it was a central idea. For Opalka, there was no idea apart from the act of painting. This was his infinity. In this sense he could be evaluated as a dialectical painter as Hegel was understood as a dialectical philosopher. Opalka’s synthesis became an idea/painting, the result of a numerical destiny, the entire span of 233 Details at the end of his life, or, from a conceptual point of view: one vast singular epic given to a rarified existence.

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