FEB.1, 2021







On Kawara was born in Japan in December 1932. He was 13 when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atom-bombed. The bombing turned him from a diligent student to a boy who, when asked a question in class, would reply: "I don't understand."

In 1951, at the age of 18, he went to art school in Tokyo, where he progressed to become part of the
avant garde. His output was semi-figurative and abject, bordering on nihilistic.

In 1959, after donating all his existing work to the National Museum of Modern Art, he left for Mexico where his father was working as an engineer. There he learnt Spanish and reorientated himself as a citizen of the world.

In 1962, On Kawara left Mexico for a stay in New York, where he met his future wife, Hiroko Hiraoka. He then travelled to Paris, took a trip to Altamira in Spain where he was profoundly moved by the 36,000-year-old cave paintings, before returning to New York in 1964.

In 1965, a year in which America bombed Viet-Nam, Kawara painted the three-panelled
Title:

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On Kawara, Title 1965. Liquitex on canvas. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner, New York/London.

It was as if he was announcing what he was going to go on and do. He was going to concentrate on one special thing. That special thing would be the date. But politics was going to inform his work, however obliquely.

In print, On Kawara's biography is always expressed as a number of days. Effectively, this began on January 4, 1966 when he painted his first "Today" painting. By which time he had marked up 12,045 days. Before he had reached 12,500 days he had formed a friendship with Kasper
König, based on a shared interest in art, that was to last the rest of his life.

Looking through his catalogues one finds that in the volume
On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity, his first retrospective which was seen in Sweden, Germany, Holland and Japan, published on October 11, 1980, his life had amounted to 17,458 days. In On Kawara: Date Paintings in 89 Cities, as of December 15, 1991, it's 21,540 days. So I suppose you could say it took On Kawara about 20,000 days to become more widely known, though still within an art world context.

In the Phaidon monograph, a comprehensive retrospective of his career edited by Jonathan Watkins, as of 1 September, 2002, his age was 25,453 days. And by the end of his life, according to
On Kawara - Silence, published by the Guggenheim in New York, he had logged up 29,771 days. Only 239 short of his 30,000th birthday. By that time the number of date paintings had almost reached 3,000. A ratio of 10 actual days lived to one "Today" painting painted.

What is there to be said for this day count? The Earth does spin on its axis every day, just as it takes the Earth one year to rotate around the Sun. But age is primarily a numbers game, played by the human mind, and to talk in terms of 30,000 basic units rather than a maximum of about 100, might seem to be stretching things a bit. Nevertheless, I will employ the system where I can, in case familiarity with it leads to an enlightened understanding of time's passing.

I first came across a show of On Kawara's "Today" pictures in 1992, after living 12,656 days of my own. I made a few notes on the handout.

My next significant sighting of Date Paintings was in 2002, when I had lived 16,501 days. I reviewed the Birmingham show for a British art journal.

As I sit here in February, 2021, hoping to embark on a period of detailed research into On Kawara's life and work for this website, I have lived 19,472 days.