January, 1966, in New York. I know exactly where On Kawara was for most of the month, because the subtitle of one of his January Date Paintings (
JAN.19, 1966) is "From 123 Chambers St. to 405 East 13th St.". He lived with Hiroko Hiraoka in her studio/apartment on Chambers Street (red circle towards the bottom left of map below) and commuted each day to his own massive loft studio (the other red circle) on the east side of Manhattan.


Where he painted the date. One day at a time. Starting with this one:

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner, New York/London.

Apparently, On Kawara had told friends about this project in the autumn of 1965. He'd intended to start on January 1, 1966, but had not managed to get down to it. Clearly he was a well-organised and disciplined artist. But there are limits. Especially when you think you're on the cusp of a big idea. One that will take a lot of achieving.

Jonathan Watkins describes On Kawara's technique in the Phaidon monograph on the artist:
'The craftsmanship involved in the production of a Date Painting is extraordinary. Four coats of paint are carefully applied for the ground, with enough time elapsing between for drying, followed by a rubbing down in preparation for subsequent coats. The outlines of the text are carefully drawn [between two ruled lines] and then filled in with several coats of white paint with the use of tapered brushes, a ruler and set-square, an x-acto blade and a brush for dusting. A considerable amount of time is spent eliminating imperfections, making minute adjustments to the outlines and fine-tuning the composition overall.'

Perhaps that was the technique used right from the beginning of the 'Today' series. I imagine On Kawara spent much of the next few days thinking about this first one. Indeed, January 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 may have passed by in a haze, as he tried to get a handle on what he had done. Indeed, I imagine him pacing his studio in the dark, late at night, using the torch that hung on a wall there to suddenly illuminate his Date Painting.
What did he see? To his intense satisfaction, he saw something that had the same impact on him as this had done a couple of years before.


The image of an animal that effectively existed outside time. An image painted with religious intensity. A tribute to the previous day, and the next day, and the day after that. A tribute to life itself. Thank-you for the days…

On Kawara's studio was at the top of one of the first blocks given over to artists' studios in New York. Close to First Avenue from where one could go uptown to Andy Warhol's Factory, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and all the rest. The studio block stretched all the way from 405 East 13th Street to 404 East 14th Street. See the red tack on the map below. Bear in mind that it's superimposed on a 2021 map, but certain structures don't change: the grid lay-out of streets, the blocks of high-rise, the subway.


Also working in the building at the time were, amongst others, John Chamberlain, Claes Oldenburg and Yayoi Kusama, the latter of whom was becoming upset that her ideas were being stolen by the elite white, male artists of the day. London is my city, not New York, and I caught a retrospective of Kusama at Tate Modern in 2012. Like On Kawara, Yayoi Kusama played a successful long game. They had other things in common too, beyond a Japanese heritage. They were both into infinity, in their different ways, and against the Viet Nam war. Here she is, circa 1966.


The artist tells this story of the East 13th Street studio. 'One day I was struck by fear while I was standing in the building. I cried out: "I'm scared. Somebody, please come." There came Mr Kawara: "Don’t worry. No need to be scared, I am with you.’”

On Kawara was with her. Standing at the top of the studio block, hard by the Immaculate Conception School and Roman Catholic Church. He would escort her down the fire escape, if need be. To escape whatever storm threatened her.


The potential of the "Today" project may have seemed daunting (it wasn't just Yayoi Kusama who was afraid). But the artist was back in his loft studio sufficiently by Jan 10 to paint a second Date Painting. Again, a small one, 8" by 10", a size that would remain a standard, especially when On Kawara was travelling. Though he wasn't travelling in 1966. Oh, no: he was rooted to his New York loft studio. Notwithstanding his daily commute to and from Hiroko's apartment.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner, New York/London.

In January, On Kawara painted 13 Date Paintings. That is, he painted January 4, 10, 13 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 28, 30 and 31. On two of these days, he painted the whole of the month's name and not just an abbreviated 'JAN'. But I'll come back to that. Otherwise, all the pictures were the same size. And pretty much the same colour, variations on dark blue. The record that he kept up as he went along, or, more likely, created at the end of the year, shows the colour used on each day's painting. The double-page of the On Kawara 1966 catalogue reproduced below, published by Ludion on behalf of the Museum Dhondt Daenans of Antwerp, Belgium, to go with the show that was on display there in 2015, takes us to the 100th Date painting of the year, made on June 6. You can see that the paintings have migrated from dark blue to dark grey, but that (in April) two red paintings were made. Again, I'll come back to those.


The other thing that On Kawara did as he went along was give subtitles to each picture. The series was called "Today". Each picture was specifically titled by the date represented. And the subtitle was a sentence in quotes. Sometimes the sentence was an observation from On Kawara's life. Something that happened to him that day, or a philosophical thought. But more often it was a quote from, or a paraphrasing of, a New York newspaper story. In which case, the title wasn't come up with until the day after the date that had been painted. It's possible that the artist used his morning commute (20 minutes in the train with one change, I calculate) to buy a paper and read enough of it to come to a conclusion as to what had happened the day before - in the wider world - while he had been doing his painterly thing in the studio.

On Kawara went on Date Painting through 1966, constantly upping the ante. According to his typed list of subtitles, in February he painted 16, all at size A (or a variation). In March, he painted 23 A-sized paintings, including nine days in a row from March 18 to March 26. By then '1966' must have been engraved in his brain. The final painting made in March is subtitled: "I didn't sleep well last night."

Perhaps the most appropriate way to go through the year is with the aid of a set of 12 photographs taken in the studio that On Kawara included as part of his Journal. This Journal is reproduced in full in the aforementioned
On Kawara 1966. After the title page, Kawara has a statement saying that the pictures were painted on the day that's painted on them. Then, on a single page, comes a month by month summary of the days painted. Then five pages of colour samples, covering the 241 Date Paintings. Then the 12 studio photographs. Then the list of subtitles that covers another 25 pages of the journal.

I've created the following plan of On Kawara's studio with the help of the 12 photos, plus one or two other pieces of data. I can't guarantee its accuracy - indeed it can't be quite accurate.
On Kawara - Silence is a catalogue that was published by the Guggenheim Museum on the occasion of the 2015 exhibition in New York. In it, Jeffrey Weiss has an essay, 'Bounded Infinity'. And on page 32 of the book, this essay mentions an article in Japanese by Homma which suggests that the studio consisted of three rooms. However, the plan below, with its two rooms, an inner and an outer, does account for the photographs. Plus it creates a structure for this narrative. Besides, if On Kawara didn't leave these photos as a guide for posterity, then why did he include them in his Journal? He was the first curator of his own incredible work.


As you can see, On Kawara had an office within the warehouse-size studio. The first photo was taken over the two tables and chairs in the room, and is reproduced below. You can see where he had been sitting, facing towards the left of the frame, painting the background colour of a new Date Painting, with an ashtray to his right as he worked. There are two chairs in the photo, and in front of the chair in front of the wall is a pile of newspapers. On the smaller table is a file that might have contained 'I READ' (which I understand was begun in September, 1966) and the typewriter with which he would have typed out the sub-title of each painting. At this stage there were no cardboard boxes for the Date paintings. Those would be introduced retrospectively from February 1967, I suspect. Though I've yet to research beyond 1966.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

A row of eleven Date Paintings can be seen on the wall of the office. These are not in chronological order, therefore it seems safe to say they've been put up with other organising principles. First, they are all of the same size. These paintings are all size A. Perhaps the second organising principle is association. If one refers to the sub-titles, the sequence reads as follows:

April 4:

“In Dalat, about 140 miles northeast of Saigon, Buddhist students burned down a regional radio station and a large hotel.”

June 12:

“1,000 rioters in Chicago.”

May 24:

“The Soviet central Asian city of Tashkent was rocked by a new strong earth tremor.”

April 9:

“The 10th International Automobile Show at the New York Coliseum.”

(On Kawara seems to have had to come back to New York in order to find tranquility. It also has to be emphasised that these may simply be the articles that caught On Kawara's attention during his morning commute.)

June 21:

“Guarded by 8 Secret Service men, Lynda Bird Johnson arrived in Spain and said “I have no plans at the moment to marry anybody.”"

June 22:

“The 25th Anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union.”

June 14

“In Amsterdam, police used guns and tear gas on demonstrators near the royal palace. Youths tore up pavements, parking meters, smashed store windows and stoned streetcars.”

May 17:

“In London, the National Union of Seamen warned Prime Minister Wilson today it will take counter action if he uses the Royal Navy to break the two-day-old seamen’s strike.”

June 20:

“President De Gaulle flew to Moscow today.”

April 15:

“FDA (Food and Drug Administration) suggests now ‘no more than four years on the use of birth control pills'.”

April 7:

“Rioters in Saigon burned an American jeep and danced around the flames.”

And so we get back to Viet Nam - by way of politicians and violence and portents of doom all over the world - which is where the sequence started. Viet Nam, and in particular America's involvement there, being one of On Kawara's abiding concerns. In the 1965 painting that uses the words 'ONE THING'/'1965'/'VIET-NAM', the left-hand panel was originally called 'RED CHINA'. On Kawara was advised to change it, to reduce the overtness of the Cold War politics. So 'CHINA' became 'THING' through the repainting of three letters.

The second and third photos take us from the office to the main part of the studio, each of these photos showing one edge of the office door. This is 'photo three'.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

I'll come back to the column of Date Paintings which spell out the full month, rather than abbreviate, a little later. For now let's step out of the office and look to the left, across a third table. This is 'photo four' on the above diagram, which I've been able to annotate to clarify which Date Paintings are there, thanks to the excellent reproduction of it in the aforementioned catalogue On Kawara - Silence.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

As you can see, this is where the earliest paintings can be found, including the first one, JAN. 4. Again these paintings are hung primarily according to size. Kawara began to paint size E canvases, beginning with the one on the far left of the frame, APRIL 30. I'll get to them soon enough. It's not immediately obvious, but the paintings that hang along the upper rail on the long, side wall are size B. But focussing on the size A paintings on the upper rail of the end wall, the sequence of pictures can again be read by their sub-titles:

Jan 31:

“U.S.A. began to bomb North Vietnam again.”

Feb 23:

“The fire of Mineola Hotel.”

(That was on 2nd Street, New York.)

Jan 16:

“Janine came to my studio.”

(This is a personal observation. There were none of these in the row of Date Paintings that hung in the office.)

Jan 10:

“A negro girl at the corner of 1st Av. and 13th St. holding a sign ‘42nd St.”

(That must have looked particularly strange to the man who was painting the date on the exact day itself. Perhaps he couldn't get the incongruity out of his mind as he painted his Date.)

Mar 3:

“109 Americans were killed last week in Vietnam.”

Jan 4:

“New York’s traffic strike.”

Jan 18:

“I am painting this painting.”

One imagines that On Kawara came up with this philosophical observation while he was painting
JAN.18, 1966. And that the thought stayed with him long enough, or struck him deeply enough, for him to hang on to it and make it his sub-title when doing so the following day.

Mar 4:

“A Canadian Pacific jetliner crashed in Tokyo.”

Mar 9:

“France and N.A.T.O.”

Mar 1:

“Soviet spaceship lands on Venus.”

Jan 21:

“Meeting Y.Tono at M. Ikeda’s hotel.”

Mar 2:

“Yesterday’s selloff in New York Stock-Exchange was one of the worst since the assassination of President Kennedy.”

Feb 25:

“New York City’s income tax.”

Jan 15:

“This painting itself is January 15, 1966.”

The suggestion from this last subtitle is that nothing could be happening elsewhere in the world that meant more to the artist than what was happening in his studio at the end of his paint brush.

In April, Kawara painted four paintings at size B, 10" by 13". That's the size in the top row that goes along the long back wall of the studio, mostly made of brick. On April the 30th he painted more than one Date Painting, including one at the much larger size of 26" by 36". He marks in his Journal that this was size E. Now as no paintings of size C or D had been made by this date, that suggests to me that the typing out of the sub-title sheets in this first year was done in retrospect, perhaps at the end of the year.

Anyway, this was the first painting at this much larger size, which one might have guessed given where it crops up on the left edge of the previous photo. It has the intriguing sub-title: "The world's most exciting resort hotel for a mere $10.50 a day? Now really, darling?" It takes an individual with a sense of humour to have left in that second sentence.

On Kawara took a ten-day break following his efforts of April 30th. Perhaps he went on holiday to that most exciting hotel resort. After all, Hiroko Hiraoka's birthday was mentioned in the sub-title of April 21, and she was the woman he would marry. (I don't know exactly when. The artist was discreet - even secretive - about much of his personal life. And yet there is plenty of personal information he did divulge in his work.) Actually, the subtitle for April 21 reads "An artificial heart by Dr. DeBakey for Hiroko's birthday." The doctor mentioned was a pioneer in the development of artificial hearts. Surely Kawara was joking again.

Another possibility is that this is when Kawara and Hiroko moved apartment. I have been told, via Jonathan Watkins, Director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, that OK found the daily commute to and from Chambers Street to be too long. So Hiroko found a studio/apartment close to her partner's studio, in fact on the same street, just a block away, 340 East 13th Street. (It would be from there that Kawara sent 'I GOT UP' postcards in 1969.)


I've been told that the move was made in 'summer' 1966, but the only gap between Date Paintings of more than three days was this 10-day break at the beginning of May. And surely a break in painting was needed in order to deal with everything that has to be dealt with during such a move. So until I learn otherwise, I'll be leaning towards this interpretation of events. In which case the largest-Date-Painting-so-far, APR. 30, 1966, with its jocular subtitle about accommodation is a painting that marks an important transition.

Behold On Kawara's new journey to and from work. That is, unless he had to walk a bit out of his way in order to pick up his daily newspapers.


After the early May break, On Kawara painted for ten days in a row, including a couple of days when he made more than one Date Painting. There were 25 paintings made in May, which made it the most productive month so far. (Life is so much simpler when you don't have a long daily commute to contend with!) It's clear from the above 'photo four' that he painted at least five of the much bigger paintings in June (after painting only one such in May). And it's clear from the photo below, 'photo six' in the previous diagram, that he went on making those larger images in July.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

But the most obvious thing about 'photo six' is 'SEPT. 20,1966'. It's enormous. I calculate that it must be nine feet across and six feet six high. On the other hand, it's the only painting one can see that's painted on the scale that befits the size of the studio. Is that a scattering of scaffolding in front of it? It's possible that the artist would have had to stand on something to paint the upper reaches of its surface, though I suspect not.

The peculiar thing is that this picture isn't marked on
100 Year Calendar. This is the artwork in which the artist placed a dark green dot - that signalled he'd painted a Date Painting - over the yellow dot indicating a day of On Kawara's actual existence. Nor is it on the list of Date Paintings given sub-titles. The explanation is that the picture wasn't finished on September 20th, 1966, and so On Kawara 'destroyed it'. The calendar tells us that the next painting made was on September 25th. So the artist must have spent some or all of September 21, 22, 23, and 24 completing the giant image.

One wonders if something special happened that day, or if it was part of the pattern of Kawara challenging himself to take things further, as he'd been doing all year. Studio 'photo six' strongly suggests that he
did finish SEPT. 20,1966. But he must have realised subsequently that he was going to have to destroy it. Otherwise he could be painting a particular date any time he liked. On the other hand, he did begin the painting on 20 Sept.1966. So perhaps for a while he thought he might be able to keep it. A logical extension of that would be that each day he could begin a Date Painting, spending ten minutes on it and promising himself to come back to it. Then, months or years later, he could get down to work and complete it. How much sense would that make? None. And so the painting had to go.

Another way to put it, is that by spending September 21, 22 and 23, say, in order to finish SEPT.20,1966, the artist turned those subsequent days into non-days. And that wouldn't have felt right. All days are equal. Some days may be more equal than others, but several days couldn't be sacrificed so that one day truly lived!

That maybe explains why the painting was positioned where it was in the studio, so that it could be photographed for posterity. Though I have to point out that there were no size E paintings painted between July 22 and July 28 behind it. That is, no such paintings were made. So that SEPT.20,1966 does seem to be an integral part of the layout. It appears in no fewer than five of the twelve photos that are included in the Journal. It must have taken a strong mind to destroy it eventually, nullifying all those hours of concentrated labour. But, for the sake of the overall vision, the sacrifice had to be made. The longer the artist thought about it, the truer that would have been.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

You can see from the above 'photo seven' that the B-sized paintings stretched in a line all the way down the long back wall of the studio. For some reason On Kawara took more photos of the end of the wall than he needed to. So we have this…

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

And we have this….

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

So let's have the subtitles for the top and bottom row. First the top:

July 4:

"About 150 million gallons of water were used up by youngsters who turned on 680 water hydrants in New York City because of its hot weather."

(On Kawara surely escaped the worst of the heat by painting all day in his studio.)

July 5:

"New York's subway fares went up 20 cents and 29-ton U.S. rocket (Saturn 48) from Cape Kennedy Fla. put into orbit today."

(Did he note this because he was - at least on a daily basis - finished using the subway? Not sure why the artist has conjoined what must surely have been two different stories. Oh, and Florida is sometimes abbreviated as Fla.)

July 6:

"Placards, 'Get away Rusk. Hold back your ugly hands from Viet Nam' carried by 8,000 to 12,000 demonstrators in Kyoto, Japan."

(A moment of solidarity with his fellow Japanese?)

July 9:

"T. Odate."

(An ambiguous entry. And I should say that July 7 and 8 have been omitted from this sequence, but then these were size E and A, respectively.)

July 10:

"U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur J. Goldberg said today in Rome that Pope Paul VI and Italian government leaders have shown 'great understanding' of America's reason's for stepping up the bombing in North Viet Nam."

(If On Kawara is certain of one thing, it is that the bombing of innocent people by American planes is unacceptable. He will never be able to forget the impact it had on himself and his own community. Oh, and that is at least the third mention of the Pope in the years's subtitles. Possibly the impact of working right next to a Roman Catholic Church and the Immaculate Conception School.)

July 31:

"JULY 31, 1966."

JULY 31, 1966? Taking one day at time. Neither more nor less.

Actually, all the paintings done between July the 10th and the 31st, and there were12 of them, were of a size other than B. So we can't read anything into this sequence of sub-titles, as it's essentially chronological. I'm leaving them in this essay as I think they are interesting for their own sake.

Let's now see what the bottom row spells out, as these six pictures feature three different sizes. Well, perhaps that isn't strictly necessary as they are basically a chronological sequence again. The sub-title of Aug. 29 reads: "While 200,000 Chinese youths are demonstrating outside the Soviet Embassy in Peking in protest against Russian 'revisionism'. Russia's Luna 11 satellite has begun transmitting pictures back to earth from its orbit round the moon." It seems to have been a perspective of On Kawara's, that while humanity continued to fight with itself on Earth, the space race could be its saviour. Such faith in technology at first sight seems a tad dated from a 2021 perspective. But I will try and keep an open mind. (The test for this will come in 1969.)

Turning to the end wall, upper row, that's where most of the Date paintings of size A from February and March are that aren't hanging on the opposite wall at the other end of the long studio.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

As for the lower row, the September paintings continue after a sequence of six earlier, smaller Date Paintings. Unfortunately, I can't quite read the digits on the April, March, March, March, March and March paintings. As for the September, size B, Date paintings:

Sept. 6: "The assassination of South African Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd, 64."

Sept. 7: "Six princes and princesses of Japan's imperial family gave blood for the first time today to promote a national campaign for blood donors."

Sept. 10: "A razor is getting in between my teeth so that I cannot close my mouth."

Sept. 12: "Gemini 11."

It seems to me that these sub-titles bounce off each other in a most evocative way, largely thanks to the inclusion of the obscure, personal remark, which may have been a dream. It's also true that SEPT.9 has been omitted from this sequence, perhaps because "4th annual New York avant garde festival in New York's Central Park," gets in between On Kawara's razor and the royal Japanese blood donors. As for Gemini 11, surely On Kawara thinks that it will save us all!

That was 'photo eleven'. In order to take the final photo, number twelve, On Kawara simply swivelled round through 180 degrees and pointed his camera at the front wall of his studio, the window wall. The photo features 12 of the 22 Date Paintings from October. Size B hanging in a row at eye level. Size C, D, and E resting on the floor.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

It's an October painting which is not shown that I want to mention. OCT.2,1966 has the subtitle: "At least 14,400 union employees of General Electric Corp., which is the sole producer of engines for 4 types of helicopters and the F4 Phantom fighter plane, ignored President Johnson's contention that a strike would damage the Viet Nam war effort."

On Kawara - Silence catalogue reproduces the relevant page from 'I READ'. As I understand it, this file only exists from September onwards, though On Kawara was doing the reading to come up with his subtitles, and to keep track of what was happening in the wider world, from the beginning of 1966. However, because in the earlier months of the year, the artist may well have been doing his reading on public transport, he may have felt awkward about making notes. While after the flit, with his reading done in the studio, note-making and cutting articles out of the paper would have been easier.


The above page shows that in subtitling October 2, the artist focussed on a feature in the New York Post of October 3. He used a direct quote from the first paragraph, 'At least 14,400 union employees of General Electric Corp., ignored President Johnson's contention that a strike would damage the Viet Nam war effort,' but then introduced into the quote paraphrased information (about helicopters and a fighter plane) from later in the piece. As the artist marked up the article in pen. Perhaps that paraphrased information was unnecessary, from certain perspectives. It just goes to show that On Kawara took his newspaper reading seriously.

So I've now taken us through the set of 12 photos that the artist has included in his Journal for 1966. In doing so I've reproduced nine of them, as marked below.


If they were all taken on the same occasion, as I suspect they were, then that would have been at the end of October, or in early November. I say that because there were at least three more photos taken in the office part of the studio subsequently.

Come December, On Kawara was running out of space in his studio and began to add additional rows of Date Paintings. At least he did on the wall behind his desk that was shown above in 'photo one'.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

The top row is the same as in the earlier photo, except June 22, 1966 has been replaced by June 20, 1966. In other words the Date Painting that mentions the 25th anniversary of Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union has been replaced by President De Gaulle flying to Moscow. Perhaps June 20 and June 22 were just swopped over, either by accident or on purpose.

Another photo, also taken at the end of the year, shows more:

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

The sofa bed (not present in 'photo one') looks like it may have been used for sitting on, so the artist didn't want to place pictures in such a way that they might be leant against. It looks to me that, to begin with, the third row down would have consisted of DEC.9, DEC.10 and DEC.11. And the fourth row, DEC.12 and DEC.16. Then On Kawara realised he could squeeze a couple more in. And so DEC.19 was added to the third row. And DEC.23 to the fourth row. Oh, yes and DEC.28 to the second row.

End of the year. Take a seat, On Kawara. Have a nap even. You deserve it. Indeed the sub-title of
DEC.31,1966 is "To make a hole in a day as a nap." Imagine taking a nap in such close proximity to a year's work. The meticulous working through of a singular, momentous vision. How inspiring would that be! Making a hole in the fabric of time. And preserving the hole. Day after day…

But there is one more photo I need to take account of. Below is a final picture from the studio at 405 East 13th Street. If you were to open the door shown, you would see into the warehouse part of the studio, much as you could in 'photo three'. You could see over to SEPT. 20,1966, the date painting that was not a Date Painting.

Indeed the column of Date Paintings ends with the one that On Kawara painted immediately after SEPT. 20. Apart from that, the column shows pictures that are 8" by 16", or a little larger, being a variation on size A.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

On Kawara stopped painting such oblong pictures after the four painted in January and February of 1966, so that is the full set of them. They would have taken a lot longer to do, because of the number of letters, which is where all the hard work went into. Moreover, for the artist, the more square-shaped canvas may have seemed more aesthetically satisfying.

For now, here are the sub-titles of the oblong paintings, from top to bottom, which might be considered a sort of Date Poem:

"Luna 9 is electrically dead."

"Snow in New York City."

"Beatles and their neutrality."

"M. Yoshimura's immigration trouble."

From the Solar System to New York; from a British pop sensation to a Japanese acquaintance (possibly). The juxtapositions are evocative; the connections are subtle and intricate.

Of course, it could always be argued that this is a five-painting Date Poem, the fifth sub-title, from September 1966, being: "More than 300 people have been killed or are missing today after two typhoons that ravaged the Tokyo area and southern Japan."

In short, and not for the first time, death rains down on Japan.

The presence of the window in this additional photo has been crucial to my building up what I hope is a reasonably accurate plan of On Kawara's East 13th Street studio. Below is a plan of the office space. (Subject to amendments. All corrections gratefully received.)


There are one or two things that can usefully be said here. First, the only date paintings made in January that I can't find are JAN.19 and JAN. 20. These are the ones with subtitles 'From 123 Chambers Street to 405 East 13th Street.' I like to think that would be hanging in Hiroko Hiroaka and On Kawara's new apartment. Though of course it could just as easily be hanging on one of the walls not exposed by the artist's photographs. JAN. 20's subtitle is 'I have decided to be alone.' Surely that does hang somewhere in the office!

Beside the window in On Kawara's office hangs a torch. It can be lifted from its hook so as to take a late night tour of On Kawara's Date Cave. I pass from office to the larger space and I begin to walk around the circumference of the loft. I go all the way round, only turning on the torch occasionally to orientate myself. Then I go around a second time. First, I stop at the bright red Date Painting.

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, David Zwirner, New York/London.

APR.14,1966. One of two red Date Paintings made in 1966, the other being painted two days later. Look at the angle of the '6's! What a charging bull! The sub-title is "President Johnson in Mexico City".

Actually, that's a spurious connection. Although the rendering of the figure '6' was indeed more vertical at the start of the year, by April all the Dates display this shape of a 6.

So what's the sub-title for the darker red April 16, which my borrowed torch can't seem to find for the moment?

"2,500 demonstrators in Da Nang burned today a copy of Premier Ky's decree promising South Viet Nam an elected civilian government."

Which reminds me that 'ONE THING, 1965, VIET-NAM' consists of white letters on a red background. Plus the mention of burning in the Date Painting's sub-title would seem to suggest red. So that all seems to hang together. Except the quote was in all probability selected the day
following the actual painting. One really has to be quite disciplined in one's own thinking when considering the work of On Kawara.

I'm curious to see
APR. 17, 1966, whose sub-title is "Skirts go up-up-up in Britain." And even more so to see JUNE 18, 1966, whose sub-title is "Richard, Ginny, Reeve and Peter came to my studio. We had a hot discussion about art."

I cannot find this Date Painting either. So I have to go with the flow of the sub-title:

Richard: "These Date paintings are awesome. Andy would love to hang them in The Factory."

Ginny: "They are just so cool. But tell me, are the sub-titles part of the work? Or are they documentation?"

On: "I think they are primarily documentation. But they are part of the work too. Literally, there is a label that is stuck onto an inner edge of the painting, giving its title and subtitle."

Ginny: "So you're sitting on the fence on that one?"

On: "It is significant to me that while I am painting the date, things are going on in the world. Things that I care about, or find funny or sad or ironic. But my thoughts about what is going on in the world are as nothing to the fact that I am alive. Or at least that I was alive when I painted the picture."

Ginny: "Consciousness is where it's at?"

On: "Consciousness is where it's at."

Reeve: "But why don't you do one
every day."

Peter: "Yeah, I was wondering that. That would be a stronger concept."

On: "I am pleased you like my Date Paintings. They are an aid to what I might call meditation. They emphasise pure consciousness as my mind is asked to keep its focus on the mark-making for the necessary hours. But I wouldn't want to be tied to the process every day. That would not lead to
a balanced life and would be too stressful for me. Also, Hiroko would hate it! I do not intend to make a martyr of myself. Contemporary artist, yes; Medieval martyr, no. Though it is not out of the question that at some future date I will come up with a much simpler thing that I will be able to do every day."

Peter: "Adding to the serenity, not the stress?"

Richard: "These paintings are the hottest thing I've seen for a long time. They would blow Andy's wig off."

Sure, On Kawara had a hot discussion about art within these four walls on June 18, 1966, whether or not it was anything like that one. But night after night he had a long, cool, solo meditation about art and life; about nothing, something and everything. At least I think he did.

MAY 29,1966: "I am afraid of my 'Today' paintings."

Where was
I in 1966? I was a nine-year old boy living in Scotland reading Marvel and DC comics, which came out of New York City.

Artist Gene Colan. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, Magazine management Co., Inc., Marvel Comics Group.

When I consider the cover of this magazine, by torchlight - as it were - in 2021, I manage to see "KAWARA, KAWARA, KAWARA" on both sides of the costumed figure just by changing half the letters. Back in my childhood, I played no such mind games. Which is fine by me. One has to walk/fall before one can run/fly.

In 60s America, many of the comic book heroes hid their 'real' identities (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc.), and I wonder if On Kawara's insistence that he never be photographed in an identifiable way, was inspired by them. Or inspired by the postmodern, urban environment that they all came out of.

On Kawara on his way to save Yayoi Kusama with the help of his super-power.


YK: "I'm afraid… Viet Nam is being decimated. My ideas are being plagiarised… Someone please come."

OK: "Don’t worry. No need to be scared. My Date Painting is at your disposal."

I keep circulating round the studio with On Kawara's torch, switching it on and off. Cherry-picking, you could say:

JAN 18,1966: "I am painting this painting."

JULY 25,1966: "I make love to the days."

Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

On Kawara's Date Cave. If my own mood is anything to go by, the artist could hardly contain his excitement. Actually, that's exactly what he could do. On Kawara had the skill set both to come up with the vision, and the discipline to make it rigorously and wittily so.

Adapted with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Thank-you for the days. How does that song by the Kinks, those mid-60's rivals to the Beatles in the UK, go again? On Feb. 10, 2021, I sing it for On Kawara, as Ray Davies did, poignantly:

"Thank you for the da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ys.
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I'm thinking of the da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ys.
I won't forget a single day, believe me.

"I bless the light,
I bless the light that lights on you, believe me.
And though you're gone.
You're with me every single day, believe me."

Ah, but that's a 1968 song. I'm getting ahead of On Kawara. I must take this one day at time. Or as close to that as is practical to research and interesting to read.

Which I suspect is going to amount to taking things
one year at a time.