GAME ON (32)

THE END OF 2023





When I decided to paint DEC.18, 2023, it was to use as a Xmas card. Or a Xmas communication. This illustrated text would be sent to a dozen people for that purpose. But three days later, a new perspective has come up and I find myself re-writing the story.

So here we go again. DEC.9, 2023 was only put out on the table to help me with the spacing of the characters.

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A background of red is not quite what On Kawara would have chosen. He preferred a raw Sienna background so as to link his painting of the present day to cave paintings of 30,000 years ago.

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But given that, in the end, the red is as invisible as the raw Sienna, maybe it doesn’t matter that much.

After a few coats of paint - plus drying time for each coat - I had a perfect field of Payne’s grey. Can you detect the merest hint of hidden red? Yes, I think so.

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In the meantime I had prepared my raised beds. That is, I’d weeded them and dug them over.

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It has been a terrible year for vegetables in my back garden, just a few small potatoes, and a pathetic harvest of beetroot because I never thinned them out properly. Oh, and I just let the spinach and rocket go to seed. So I was glad to clean things up. The fact is, all my creative energies have gone into my on Kawara website this year. I have thinned that out properly so that the essays left are - I like to think - bulging with mental and moral sustenance.

Back to the conservatory, where all the dates I’ve painted in 2023 have been kept. But taking this photo from the back door so as not to bring earth into the house on my boots.

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Why the raised beds in the garden? Well, the 2021 dates Are hung in the lounge, while the 2022 dates have the run of the rest of the house, from downstairs bathroom and kitchen to upstairs bedrooms. The new idea was to get the 2023 dates out of the house. But first I needed to finish off DEC.18,2023.

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I reckoned I’d made a good job of that. But in the light of a new day I could see the gleam of pencil lines that I thought I’d painted out. Too late to do anything about it the morning after. Because by that time it was December 19. As we all know, Days are short in December. Eight hours of daylight is as much as we get, and I hadn’t finished the painting until 8 P.M., missing the sweetness and light spot of the day by several hours.

That morning I took the day before’s painting out to the raised bed and considered my next move.

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Last night, while in my cups, I’d written ’Santa is still alive’ and then 'but Satan rules'. Which has been pretty much true recently, given the behaviour of Putin, Hamas and the Israeli government. But it looked a bit crass so I got rid of the Satan bit.

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Then I got to work. It had been softly raining on the morning of the nineteenth. But that was hardly a worry since I intended to dig the pictures into the raised bed. The cotton is biodegradable and the wooden stretchers are supposed to more or less dissolve on contact with damp soil. You’ll be thinking that I’d planned this operation like a military exercise - though not of the kind that Putin favours - and you would be right.

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Then I needed to see my year’s Date Painting
en masse:

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Seventeen dates in twelve months. It doesn’t seem a lot. Then I remember that my June date was given to a friend who lives in Kenilworth. And that my first April date - made while staying on the isle of Bute - had to be destroyed because it was so badly spaced. In his later decades, On Kawara was making 40-60 Dates in a year. He never missed a calendar month.

Anyway, what has stayed with me over the last few days is the two raised bed scenario. It has caused me to think of my parents, Ian and Mabel McLaren, who died in January of 2014 and 2016. Both were in their 90th year. Do I miss them? I owe them everything, so of course I miss them.

I'm wondering when the parents of On Kawara died. I think their names were Junji and Utako Kawahara. I've tried to get more information from the web but words like 'Junji Kawahara', 'Kariya' and 'engineer' don't get me anywhere. So I will respect the secrecy/privacy that On clearly wanted in this regard, and I will simply hypothesise that they died in the 1980s or 1990s. Would their deaths have made an impact on On's work?

Perhaps On paid tribute to his mother and/or his father through Date Paintings whether or not the Dates were actually incorporated into the graves, which, let's face it, they wouldn't have been. On had been granted his time, his years, his Dates, through the generosity of those two individuals who got together and started a family. There is no way On would have denied that. It's how it is for us all.

When I came across Akito Kawahara's Twitter page in 2022, he made reference to his feelings about the death of his father around the time of the anniversary of his death. Let me see if his words are still online. They are…

'Happy #FathersDay - very thankful to my late father who passed away 8 years ago. He was an artist, but knew a lot about #science, #nature and taught me to love #insects. I strive to do the same for my kids!'

Digging my year's Dates under the earth was comparatively easy. I added some worm-rich material from the compost bin. Thus creating perfect conditions for next year's vegetables (broad beans, cabbages and bananas), while at the same time having cleared a space in the house for the Dates of 2024.

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The Dates to come being just a small proportion of those precious days I have in front of me. Those fabulous days we have in front of us all, thanks to the combined efforts of our parents.