Roman Opalka was born of Polish parents in Abbeville, France, on 27 August 1931. Educated in Poland, he studied at the Academy of fine Arts, Warsaw, from 1957 to 1960. In 1965, waiting for someone in a cafe, he comes up with the idea of materialising time through paintings.

Opalka painted number 1 in white oil on the top left side of a black canvas with size 196 x 135. This was the start of his "life project". From 1965 onward, he paints lines of numbers on canvas. He held his first solo exhibition one year later, in 1966, at Dom Artysty Plastyka Gallery, Warsaw. In 1972 he reaches the number 1,000,000.

Since 1974 he has regularly held solo exhibitions with John Weber Gallery, New York. In 1974 he was given an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, which travelled to the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam. He was awarded a painting prize at the Bienal, Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1978.

Roman Opalka died on 6 August 2011.