Friday, December 2, 2011

The Portrait Of Roman Opalka

In a well-known tale by Oscar Wilde, a playboy and aesthete, 
Dorian Gray, stays forever young and handsome. Meanwhile, 
a portrait of Gray, hidden from public view, changes over time, 
depicting the slow corruption of the dandy’s soul.

Wilde’s story works by reversing a basic assumption of 
the spiritual life, that while the body is subject to decay, 
the spirit should remain pure and unchanging, outside 
the ravages of time.

The same stakes may be raised by the self-portrait 
photographs Roman Opalka took throughout his great 
project, as accompaniments to the ‘detail’ paintings. 
While the artist is seen to age, the work progresses patiently, 
apart from personal vicissitude, in an uncorrupted realm 
of numbers. 

We are given no indication, in either the paintings or 
the photographs, of the artist’s state of mind or spirit. 
But this silence resounds ! It is towards, but also against, 
mortality that the artist progresses. In carrying out his 
self-appointed task, he becomes Roman Opalka, 
the artist we recognise as the author of 1-∞, 
the keeper of his promise, one indifferent to events.    

The photographs recognise change but are a record 
of constancy.