1980 - 1988


This is a different kind of essay. It covers a million and nine years instead of one. How's that for a change of pace?

When on September 18, 1979, On Kawara stopped his three daily series, he pulled down the shutters (as Jonathan Watkins puts it in a 2016 essay). No postcards with their getting up time would be available from this day onwards. No 'I MET' lists, and no 'I WENT' maps either.

There is a second loss which is also significant. The book
On Kawara continuity/discontinuity 1963 -1979, reproduced the artist's Journals from 1966 to 1979. These Journals continued to be produced, but they have not been disclosed to the world. The information these provide is as follows:

- The day on which a Date was painted.
- It's size and colour
- The city or place in which it was made.

It's this info, combined with the daily self-observation series, that has been providing this biographer with his essential material. Without it, what is this humble researcher left with? Well, there are the 100-Year Calendars. The one for the 20th Century tells me day-by-day, whether a Date Painting was made or not. So for 1980 the following were DP days:

JAN. 5, 8, 14, 25
FEB. 9, 19
MAR. 7, 11
APR. 1, 3, 6, 11, 16, 17, 23, 30
MAY 7, 12, 28, 31
JUNE 20, 23
JULY 4, 5, 6, 24
AUG. 6,10, 29
SEPT.19, 23
OCT. 9, 11
NOV. 10, 16
DEC. 9, 10, 13, 21, 28

On the face of it, that doesn't tell me enough to be going on with. True, I could scrape around for additional information. Here is one such scrap:

Candida Höfer, 2004. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

That painting belongs to Johann König, who was born in 1981. The photo was taken by Candida Höfer in Berlin in 2004. I am intrigued by the atmosphere and ambiguity of the image. It seems to me that the Date Painting is hanging in an office that is no longer used (the radiator control knob stands on the window sill; a computer monitor is lying on the floor; an old FAX machine is stuffed into the shelf under the table). Although it is being used as a place to store two sizes of bubble-wrapped packages (the smaller size is too small to hold a Date Painting) prior to their despatch in envelopes. I have written to Johann König asking him about the image but have received no answer. Just as my attempts to communicate with Kasper König have elicited no response.

I can understand why the König family, like the Kawara family, don't want to answer any questions. That would be too easy. Besides, the inside track on On Kawara's life can wait awhile. By and large, my project has no choice but to use On Kawara's publicly presented art, along with the books that have already been published on the artist. So let me do that, systematically drawing on the diverse sources that are available to this weary (yet indefatigable) researcher.

- January-December: 4, 2, 2, 8, 4, 2, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 5. Total 40 Date Paintings in the year.
- Akito aged 2 in April. Sahe (On and Hiroko's daughter) aged 1 in December.
- Significant Date Painting: three days in a row in July.

Date Paintings in 89 Cities, published in 1992, does not have any reproductions of Date Paintings from 1980. Which suggests that On Kawara didn't travel to any new cities that year. Date Paintings in New York and 136 Other Cities, published in 2012, reproduces Dec. 10, 1980. But before you get too excited, the book reproduces one painting per year of those that were made in New York, which that one was. There are no reproductions resulting from travel to other cities. Which suggests that On Kawara either remained in New York for the duration of 1980, or only travelled to cities he'd already made Date Paintings in.

As far as this goes, I have another tool at my disposal. That is, the format of each Date Painting. Those made in New York (or the rest of America, plus Canada and the UK) have the letters of the month positioned before the day of the month. Whereas paintings made in Europe or Japan, and most other places, start with the day of the month before the month itself in letters. Having gone through all
my books, the Date Paintings from 1980 that I've seen are as follows:

JAN.5,1980; JAN.25,1980; FEB.19,1980; APR.1,1980; APR.17,1980; APR.23,1980; MAY7,1980; JUL.6,1980; AUG.6,1980; OCT.11,1980; NOV.10,1980; DEC.10,1980; DEC.21,1980

Not a single one in the European or Japanese format. Size of sample: 13 from 40. Statistically significant? I should think so, though it stops short of proving On Kawara didn't shift from New York all year. (2023 update: Tama Art University have published all the 'I READ' sheets. This means I can now say that each Date Painting On Kawara made in 1980 was made in New York,)

But if he was in the Big Apple throughout 1980, what was he doing? Keeping an eye on Akito's and Sahe's development, perhaps. Contributing to their upbringing, no doubt. And creating
One Million Years (Future). This book would be dedicated: 'For The Last One', just as Million Years Past, made in 1970, had been dedicated 'FOR ALL THOSE WHO HAVE LIVED AND DIED'. And although Akito and Sahe can be thought of as 'The New Ones' or 'The Next Ones', we can still see why their coming along might prompt On to have thoughts about humanity's long-term future. Also, no longer having his three daily self-observation series to keep him occupied, we can see this would be the ideal opportunity to devote himself to the time-consuming task of typing, pasting and copying the thousands of pages that the project would consist of.

One Million Years (Future) starts with a short page, containing twenty years, starting with 1981:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

This sets things up, so that page 2 begins with a 1 (albeit 2001) and allows the artist to set out a page which can be used as a pro forma for further pages. As with Million Years (Past), the artist wanted to keep his overall work to a minimum, which meant restricting his typing of whole pages. Here is page 2:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

There are 500 years on that page, in 5 blocks of ten by ten. To create page 3, the artist only had to replace 10 of the 60 characters in the top line. That goes for the whole of block one. Indeed it goes for the whole of the five blocks. All On Kawara needed to do was stick a vertical line of new numbers (probably cut from a photocopy sheet of page 2) and paste that on top of the second column of old numbers. He had to do that for ten columns on the page altogether. He would very carefully position and paste the new numbers, so that when he photocopied the amended sheet it looked perfect. (Needless to say, this was before the coming of personal computers, which would make this task somewhat easier. Not easy, but easier.)

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

And so On Kawara would go from one page to the next, thinking of the easiest and most systematic way of producing the next finished page. Without doing the thing myself, I can't really say how much work of various kinds was involved, and so I don't know how many pages he would manage to do in a working day in 1980. When I was writing about
Million Years (Past), I suggested he might be doing 20 pages a day in the second half of 1970, though that was a guess. Creating 20 pages day, would be covering 10,000 years, so he would need 100 such working days to finish his million year project.

Those pages reproduced above were taken from the Ikon's 2002 catalogue
On Kawara: Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hills. The following are taken from 10 Tableaux and 16952 Pages, where the reproductions are of a higher quality.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

As you can see, we are up to page 1000 in the work. That is the last page in the fifth volume (of ten volumes in all). The artist is still getting 500 years per page, and there is not that much less space between figures, so he must be using smaller figures by this stage of the work. 1000 x 500 = 500,000. However, 501,500, the number in the bottom right corner of the above page, is correct, because page 1 effectively doesn't count towards the 500s, and page 2 effectively started at 2,000. Giving an extra 1,500 to add to the 500,000.

That's enough of that, you may be thinking. I'm thinking it's On Kawara at his most precise, rigorous, logical, determined and profound. I trust that he bought his own photocopier for
Million Years (Future). I believe he used a copy service the first time around, but surely he could now afford to take charge of the whole process.

So that's how On Kawara kept himself busy in 1980.

- January-December: 2, 2, 4, 4, 5, 2, 4, 4, 6, 5, 6, 2. Total 46 Date Paintings.
- Akito aged 3 in April. Sahe aged 2 in December.
- Significant Date Painting: three days in a row, twice in the year (End of April/beginning of May and in July).

Date Paintings from 89 Cities reproduces Aug 3, 1981, painted in North East Margaree, which is a village. While Date Paintings from 136 countries reproduces Aug.1 1981, also from Margaree. The 100-Year-Calendar tells us that there were four paintings made in 6 days, so that was one of the most productive spells of Date Painting in the year.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

In the wilderness, it may not always have been possible to source a newspaper.

It's also true to say that On Kawara would have been fishing while in Margaree. He wouldn't have gone to Nova Scotia and not fished for salmon, even though he and Hiroko had two infant children in tow. Though clearly Ansell Bray either didn't know about the trip (when we were discussing such things in the summer of 2021) or has forgotten about it.

(2023 update. A scoot through the newly published 'I READ' reveals that On Kawara Date Painted in Tokyo in December, making two Dates.)

- January-December: 9, 8, 2, 2, 3, 1, 3, 2, 3, 3, 2, 3. Total 41
- Akito aged 4 in April. Sahe aged 3 in December.
- Significant Date Painting: three days in a row in January.
- Size H paintings on Oct. 27 and Nov. 18

At the beginning of the year, On was still in Tokyo and one of the Dates made in January was made there, but the other eight were made back in New York.

The only Date Painting to be reproduced in either
89 Cities or 136 Cities, appearing in both, is this from Karija (Kariya, Japan). Note that the number of the day comes before the characters representing the month.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

'I READ' clarifies tat three paDates were painted in Kariya in the summer. Now Kariya is a town in Japan in which the Kawahara family had a home. This is consistent with what Ansell Bray told me: that for the sake of the children, the Kawaras began to spend their summers in Japan rather than Nova Scotia. Obviously the grandparents, the Kawaharas and the Hiraokas, would have played a role in the life of Akito and Sahe.

There is also a June Date Painting, reproduced in the
SILENCE catalogue that has the day of the month before the month itself: 9 JUNE, 1982. The list of plates tells us it was made in Tokyo. This is also consistent with On Kawara spending his summers in Japan.

However, in 1982, On did produce two size H paintings, the first on October 27 and the second on November 18, both made in New York. Will I ever find out why he made this special effort at this particular stage in his life? I am not too confident that I will. But just as the three size 'H' paintings made in October/November 1978 may have been in response to the three moon landing Date Paintings of July 1969 ("Look, Hiroko, I can still do it!"), so the two size 'H' paintings made in Oct/Nov 1982 could have been in response to the two surviving size 'H' paintings made in Oct/Nov 1978. 'Look, Hiroko, these four will look great together one day."

- January-December: 3, 4, 4, 7, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3, 2, 6, 7. Total 44.
- Akito aged 5 in April. Sahe aged 4 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: three days in a row in April.

89 Cities nor 136 Cities includes a reproduction of a 1983 Date Painting. Which again means that if On Kawara did do a Date Painting in a city or place other than New York that year, it was a city that he had made a Date Painting in previously.

It is obvious by this time that On made sure than he made at least one Date Painting every month. Indeed, that may have been a resolution that was in place from the very start of the 'Today' project in 1966.

SILENCE does have a reproduction of 24.MAJ,1983. That was made in Tokyo.

(2023 update: I READ suggests that On made Dates in Tokyo in each of May, June, July and August: six in all.)

- January-December: 4, 2, 2, 3, 1, 3, 3, 2, 4, 10, 4, 4. Total 42.
- Akito aged 6 in April. Sahe aged 5 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: eight days in a row from October 7 to October 14
- Size H paintings: on April 22 and September 8

The size H paintings made on April 22 and September 8 were the last ones On ever did except one. The timing suggests one may have been made before going off to Japan for the summer, and the other after getting back from there. But that's speculative.

Did On travel to Japan that summer? The additional evidence that he did, is the format
15JULY,1984 which is reproduced in Candida Höfer's book. Again the day in the month coming before the month means that it wasn't painted in New York (or anywhere in the one-time British Empire) but from somewhere else in the world, in On Kawara's case usually Japan, Germany, or somewhere else in Europe. Also, 6 JULY,1984 is reproduced in I LOVE ART 2. More significantly, the Dia Art Foundation had a show with a painting dated 4 AŭG 1984, which is the Esperanto abbreviation for August. And On Kawara, 1976 Berlin 1986 has a reproduction of 12 AŭG 1984, which further suggests that On Kawara was in Japan for the summer of 1984. Of course he was.

The eight paintings in a row made in October were done in his New York studio.

I will endeavour to come back to these Date Painterly flourishes (the size H paintings and the eight from October). In the meantime, here is the DP reproduced in both
89 Cities and 136 Cities. It was made in Brussels. And although On Kawara had visited Brussels alone in 1977, he hadn't been Date Painting on that earlier trip.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

(2023 update: 'I READ' shows that On made one painting in Brussels and eight in Tokyo in the summer.)


- January-December: 3, 4, 2, 2, 6, 10, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4, 3. Total 44.
- Akito aged 7 in April. Sahe aged 6 in December.
- Date Painting nine days in a row in June.

Again On Kawara was in Japan in the summer. A painting
17JUL.1985 is reproduced in On Kawara, published by Museum for Modern Art, Frankfurt in 1991. The list of plates tells us that the work was made in Tokyo.

(2023 update: On painted three Dates in summer, two in July and one in August.)

The DP reproduced in both Cities books is the following one, made in Lyon.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

What with the previous year's DP being made in Brussels, it's possible that by this time the Kawaras had bought a flat in Paris. Certainly, they had a flat in Paris by the time Jonathan Watkins knew the Kawaras in the late 1990s. So let's bear that in mind, although I think the purchase of the Paris flat came later and will keep my antennae out for that.

(2023 update: the flat in Paris looks like it was bought in 1992.)

- January-December: 3, 2, 2, 9, 1, 2, 3, 1, 3, 4, 3, 6. Total 39 Date Paintings.
- Akito aged 8 in April. Sahe aged 7 in December.
Date Painting four days in a row in December.

There are no repros in either of the
89/136 Cities books, but I do have a few other sources of information for this year.

This next image is in the archive of Max Hetzler Gallery in Cologne. This gallery had shown two paintings of On Kawara in 1985 and would exhibit a third show in 1990, of which more later. This was the Max Hetzler Gallery's second show of On Kawara paintings:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation and with the forbearance, I hope, of Max Hetzler Gallery.

Given that this show took place in 1987, it displays the well-known pattern of On Kawara keeping the paintings for his own purposes until the next calendar year.

Another source of information (and a change of tack). Writing in American Entomologist in 2007, the adult Akito Kawahara says this:

'If it were not for my father's childhood experiences and the availability of Japanese entomological supplies, I am fairly certain that I would not be writing this article today. The day that helped direct my career path as an entomologist came when my father walked into a Japanese department store and accidentally came upon insect collecting equipment. He bought a net for me that day, as the equipment in the store brought back memories of his childhood experience rearing the papilionid butterfly, Luehdorfia japonica Leech. I was immediately captivated by the net, became fascinated with collecting, and collected anything that moved.'

Actually, that paragraph is not dated to a year. Another one effectively is:

'When I was a child attending elementary school in Tokyo, my father bought this book ('A collecting Map of Butterflies'). During the summer, we took a three- to four-hour train ride at 4.00a.m. every Sunday to look for a particular species included in this butterfly treasure map. On one occasion, we went to look for Favonius yuasai Shirozu, a relatively rare lycaenid which flies in the canopy. When we arrived at the locality, I was shocked to discover over ten lepidopterists with their 30-foot extension poles lined up against a forest just before dawn. The scene reminded me of a line of trout fishermen along a stream in upstate New York. The lepidopterists were staring into the canopy waiting for the morning flight of the drab brown lycaenid. I was the luckiest eight-year-old that day, because while the collectors were diligently looking into the canopy, a female F. Yuasai landed on a low branch a few steps in front of me. It started raining heavily a few minutes later, and I may have been the only one that day to have collected the butterfly.'

Clearly, a treasured memory. It was in order to deliver this quality of life to his son that On Kawara had cut back on his own compulsive activities. Not even for a red letter day such as this did On Kawara stamp out another postcard, 'I GOT UP AT 3.30 A.M.', and send it to Dan Graham, Kasper K
önig, Hirotsugu Aoki, Jean Pfaff, or whoever.

'I READ' confirms that On Kawara and family were in Tokyo in the summer, as usual. So as well as spending each Sunday chasing butterflies with Akito, On found time to make five Dates. June 28 (Saturday), July 9 (Wednesday), July 10 (Thursday), July 14 (Monday), August 3 (Sunday). I guess that means On and Akito didn't go butterfly chasing on that particular Sunday.

After Tokyo, it was back to New York for a few solid months in the Big Apple The spurt of Date Painting at the beginning of December I know about. It coincided with a trip to Berlin to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of his residency there. On was invited back for a few weeks, and in this time he made six Date Paintings which were part of the show that was at Daad Galerie in Berlin from 17 January to 8 February, 1987. That means they were exhibited shortly after being painted. However, the fact that the exhibition was in 1987 as opposed to 1986 may have been enough 'distance' for the artist.

Courtesy of Daad Foundation

As you can just about see, the six paintings made in Berlin were shown in a room with 'I MET', 'I WENT' and 'I READ', all from 1976/77. And elsewhere in the show were displayed the hundreds of postcards that had been successfully called back from the 1976/77 Berlin residency. It may have been a strange experience for the artist, at the end of eight relatively barren years being reminded of a time when he had been so productive. But how can I say that when On was the proud father of a budding entomologist?

I imagine On would have taken advantage of being in Germany to visit Kasper König who had been professor of art at Dusseldorf Art Academy since 1985, but I don't know that.


- January-December: 3, 2, 1, 9, 5, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 4, 3. Total 35 +1 .
- Akito aged 9 in April. Sahe aged 8 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: seven days in a row in April.
- Size H painting made on May 1.

I wonder what inspired the making of the seven paintings on consecutive days in April (from 5th to 12th). And the last ever size H painting made on May 1. Spurts of activity at 140 Greene Street before going to Japan for the summer?

In Candida H
öfer's book, there is a reproduction of 21JULY,1987. The painting is photographed as part of the Merry Collection in Nagoya, and presumably, given the time of year and the format, it was painted in Japan. ('I READ confirms that On made four Dates in Tokyo from 20 June to 14 August.)

You, dear reader, may be getting concerned about the state of my ignorance concerning On Kawara's activities. Don't worry, 1989 is on the horizon. All comes good then.


- January-December: 3, 3, 4, 6, 6, 2, 2, 2, 2, 4, 5, 2. Total 41 + 1
- Akito aged 10 in April. Sahe aged 9 in December.
- Significant periods of Date Painting: three days in a row at end of March and beginning of April.

This painting, see below, is the only one for the year reproduced in 89 Cities. It was made in Sapporo, Japan.

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Apparently, Akito attended school in Tokyo and New York simultaneously. I don't know how he managed this, but later he went to American Universities before becoming Professor of Entomology at Florida University. And I think this is the place for another anecdote from Ansell Bray. He told me that he and Dina had once had old friends who claimed that their son or daughter was a 'gifted child'. Ansell was moved to bring up the case of Akito Kawahara, who as a ten-year-old was regularly consulted by professors of entomology. Now that was a gifted child. Though in making the point so effectively, Ansell and Dina unfortunately lost those old friends.

'I READ' confirms that the only place apart from New York that On made date Paintings in were in Japan in summer. Six in all, from June to August, with five being made in Tokyo and the one in Sapporo.

In eight years, On Date Painted almost exclusively in New York and to a lesser extent Tokyo (usually in the summer but also one winter). He also made three Dates in Margaree, one in Kariya, one in Brussels, one in Lyon, six in Berlin and one in Sapporo.

Just to be clear, I should tabulate the Date painting, year by year:

40 Dates. All made in New York.

46 Dates. 41 in New York. 3 in Margaree. 2 in Tokyo (winter).

41 Dates. 36 in New York, 3 in Kariya, 2 in Tokyo (one winter and one summer).

44 Dates. 38 in New York. 6 in Tokyo (all in summer).

42 Dates. 33 in New York. 8 in Tokyo (summer). 1 in Brussels (March).

44 Dates. 40 in New York. 3 in Tokyo (summer). 1 in Lyon (December).

39 Dates. 28 in New York. 5 in Tokyo (summer). 6 in Berlin (December).

36 Dates. 32 in New York. 4 in Tokyo (summer).

42 Dates. 5 in Tokyo (summer) and 1 in Sapporo (July)

In other words On Kawara was just about hanging on in there, barely practising his vision except in New York (even there the Dates were only made little more than once in every ten days), as his children grew up straight, sane, strong and passionate about life.

It makes you realise, he couldn't have carried on 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET'. Not and made a good parent. He must have known that back in September, 1979, with Akito eighteen months old and Sahe on the way.