Painting (by) numbers

Jason Kottke shares with us the work of Roman Opalka, evidently a man of focus and determination.

Painting infinity
In 1965, French-born Polish painter Roman Opalka began work on his series of paintings OPALKA 1965/1 – ∞. Starting in the top-left corner of a canvas, he painted the number “1”, then “2”, then “3”, and so on, continuing until the canvas was full of consecutive whole numbers. At the top of the next canvas, he picked up where he’d left off, and then just kept going from canvas to canvas. By 1970, Opalka abandoned working on anything else and devoted himself solely to filling canvases with numbers.

painting-by-numbers-1

Roman Opalka’s numerical destiny
He understood his work as the culmination of a lifetime of painting when he famously proclaimed. “It’s important that my last Detail should not be finished by me, but my life.”

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.

Not to be confused with:

From Warhol to minimalism: how painting by numbers revolutionised art
It took a genius to see the genius of Dan Robbins, the inventor of painting-by-numbers who has died aged 93. For art critics, painting-by-numbers was, and is, a byword for robotic repetition and unoriginality – and that was exactly what Andy Warhol adored about it. In 1962, when he was searching for a mechanical artistic process, he painted a series of homages to Robbins. His Do it Yourself paintings mimic painting-by-numbers landscapes, with blocky areas of flat colour guided by a grid of numbers visible through the paint.

What’s your number?

Another maths curiosity from the Futility Closet:

Fortuitous numbers
In American usage, 84,672 is said EIGHTY FOUR THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED SEVENTY TWO. Count the letters in each of those words, multiply the counts, and you get 6 × 4 × 8 × 3 × 7 × 7 × 3 = 84,672.

Here’s something I’ve (pointlessly) struggled with for a long time, now. Can you complete this sentence?

Written as words, there are _____________ letters in this sentence.

Use Excel’s LEN() function and AutoSum and try it like this, writing it out one word at a time.

number-1

So, forty three letters so far, with those two empty boxes. If you were to write forty three into those boxes, the total would obviously be more than forty three. A little trial-and-error, and we get

number-2

the answer fifty three. Well, that was fairly straightforward. Let’s try a slightly different sentence.

number-3

Maybe this isn’t so difficult, after all. One more?

number-4

That’s not right, there are forty nine letters in that sentence, not forty eight.

number-5

But now there are forty eight. Is it not possible to accurately complete that sentence, then?

Communication tied up in knots

I think I might have remembered that the Inkas never invented the wheel, but I didn’t know they hadn’t invented writing. It seems so fundamental to civilisation development. Apparently ‘knot’.

The khipu code: the knotty mystery of the Inkas’ 3D records
But, after more than a century of study, we remain unable to fully crack the code of the khipus. The challenge rests not in a lack of artifacts – over 1,000 khipus are known to us today – but in their variety and complexity. We confront tens of thousands of knots tied by different people, for different purposes and in different regions of the empire. Cracking the code amounts to finding a pattern in history’s knotted haystack.

Ok, I can just about understand the like-an-abacus-but-made-of-string category of these strange artefacts, but those types only accounts for two thirds of the ones remaining today.

The remaining third of these devices – the so-called narrative khipus – appear to contain encoded non-numerical, narrative information, including names, stories and even ancient philosophies. For those who love puzzles, the narrative khipus are a godsend.

tied-up-in-knots-3

tied-up-in-knots-2

tied-up-in-knots-4

The Internet Archive

Still can’t get my head around the scale of these things, the numbers involved.

Internet Archive
Internet Archive is a documentary focused on the future of long-term digital storage, the history of the Internet and attempts to preserve its contents on a massive scale.

Via Webmonkey. Don’t know why it makes me think of this though…