Who are the most important artists of the 20th Century? If you're a Western man of a certain generation you might say Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol. This baby boomer's list would start with On Kawara.

I first came across On Kawara's work in 1992. Four Date Paintings memorialising individual days in one room; and ten volumes listing a million years of typed dates (into the future) in another. It moved me to my mortal core. That's why I believe you can trust this project. I also like to think it comes from a place of distilled respect. About 10,000 days on from 1992, in February 2021, I began this website and wrote essays taking On Kawara all the way from the inception of his Date Painting in New York in 1966 to his death in that same city in 2014. In the meantime, he had Date Painted all around the world. The chapters begin
further down the menu (to the left) and put emphasis on my working practice as well as On Kawara's.

A year ago, I began a second version, focussing on On Kawara in the years 1966-1979, which included the decade that On Kawara recorded three series of self-observation. That is, every single day he sent out a postcard to two friends or colleagues telling them what time he'd got up; he drew a map of where he'd gone in whatever place he was in; and he made a list of the people he'd met. Nothing else. He was a deeply private individual, compelled to say so much (he was aware he was alive; he was conscious to the nth degree; he was moving around and meeting others) and no more: but enough for a biographer intent on fleshing out the work and the personality behind it all.

On Kawara did not allow any photographs of himself to circulate in the public realm, fearing that they might distract from his work. That is, not after he left Japan and began Date Painting. The exception is the photo below, which appears in
On Kawara: Silence, a catalogue that was published in the year after his death:


We know the photo was taken by On Kawara's partner, Hiroko, as 'HIROKO HIRAOKA' is the only name on that day's 'I MET' list. And we know it was taken inside a Holiday Inn, Houston, Texas, as that information is stamped, along with 'I GOT UP AT 8.49 A.M.', on the postcard On Kawara sent that day to fellow conceptual artist, John Baldessari. What else do we know? According to his own hand-made calendar of the 20th Century, this was the 1,167th time he had made a Date Painting, in the 15,349th day of his life. The picture is at the same time dated (in more ways than one) and timeless. If it was placed alongside a reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci's
Mona Lisa, painted 500 years ago, an onlooker might sigh and say: 'Ah, the enigmatic smile'. If, in 500 years time, the same juxtaposition was created, I believe the onlooker would nod and suggest about the previously ignored photo: 'The Time Artist'. I should say that almost all the hundreds of images used in this second version of this 'book' are of On Kawara's work, which are included through the continuing open-mindedness of One Million Years Foundation, On Kawara's estate.

While researching and writing
ON KAWARA: 1966-1979, one of On Kawara's closest, Japanese, New York-based, artist friends (he appears on hundreds of 'I MET' lists from 1968 to 1979) chose to answer some of my questions, clarifying certain things about New York loft-living while dropping a bombshell about On Kawara's process, emphasising to me how subtle and complex and private and unknown and game-playing was his Date Painting. At about the same time, Tama Art University, Tokyo, put On Kawara's self-observation series' online. Total 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT', 'I READ' and 'I MET' at my fluttering fingertips! I am now pushing through with a fully updated version of ON KAWARA: 1966-1979. Today I am at work on 1972, having done the groundwork for years 1973 onwards as well, so I'm typing out those extraordinarily productive and vivid years (my mind is constantly being lit-up by the patterns, jokes, layers, codes, wisdom and the restraint of On Kawara) and expect to be finished by December, 2023.

Right at the bottom of the menu, in 'GAME ON', are twenty-nine (as of today) chapters. This is a series of self-contained investigations that is ONGOING. Each is inspired by a knowledge of On Kawara's life, art and legacy, but in markedly different ways. On Kawara can be approached from many angles. Every one of which (so far) leads to enlightenment. Or do I mean endarkenment, encroaching endarkenment? You decide.

Duncan McLaren
October 23, 2023

To make a hole in a day as a nap (Subtitle of Date Painting DEC. 31, 1966)
To travel down that hole to the Big Bang
To wake up as if for the first time
At one with the universe

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