When I saw that there was to be a substantial show of work by On Kawara in a major UK space, I was excited. It would be the first ever large solo show of On Kawara's work in the UK. I would certainly travel from London to Birmingham to see it. But why wasn't it on in London, where a large proportion of the people who cared about contemporary art lived? And would I be able to write an article about it for a publication?


Ikon was - and still is - directed by Jonathan Watkins. By November 2002, I had been to the gallery half a dozen times, reviewing its always rewarding shows for the Independent on Sunday. But my second job there, whereby I reviewed three or four shows for the paper every fortnight, had come to an end. Just as a change of editor had done for my column after 19 weeks, so another change of editor put an end to the very good art page that had developed under the editorship of Janet Street Porter, who had re-employed me and given me a reviewing job. Moreover, Contemporary Visual Arts, the magazine for which, since the appearance of Personal Delivery, I'd been commissioned to write long pieces that would flow over six lavishly illustrated pages, was in abeyance as it looked for a new backer. That left Art Review amongst my active contacts. Fortunately, its editor agreed to my suggestion that I review the Ikon show, though I was only given a single page to fill. But that was fine, I settled for that. Limited privilege is better than no privilege at all.

With that settled, I read again the leaflet that had been sent to my home address:


36 Date Paintings; Both Million Years books, plus an audio version of the same; plus 'I AM STILL ALIVE' x 150. With what eagerness did I catch the train from Euston, and silt away my ticket, to be claimed later as part of the day's expenses.

This essay is not about that first encounter with the Ikon's On Kawara show. But it is a necessary building block. The first thing to say about my review (see below) is that the Date Painting reproduced alongside it is
MAY19,1991, coincidentally one of the paintings I'd seen ten years before at the Lisson. Oddly enough, the Lisson Gallery was still the place to go to for high-quality reproductions. At least it was when the actual paintings were only going to arrive close to the exhibition's opening, and too late for advance publicity.


Didn't learn much there, did we, fellow aficionado? I was remembering to write for the uninitiated, I suppose. Here's the second half:


In an effort to underline what On Kawara and the show meant to me, I wrote to Jonathan Watkins, enclosing a draft of the above piece:

'I'd really appreciate it if you would forward the draft to On Kawara. I would certainly love to get an 'I AM STILL ALIVE' e-mail from him (despite my comment on the telegram series in the review), though I don't suppose he messes around like that too much. He's got better things to do.

One of these days I will be painting a 'Date Painting' myself. I can't help feeling that the painting and repainting of the date, concentrating on that to the exclusion of all else, will give rise to… well, we'll see what happens.'

I didn't realise at the time that it would take me nearly 20 years to get round to this exercise. At the time, my email elicited a kind reply from Jonathan Watkins:
'Dear Duncan, I quick note to say how much I enjoyed this piece. Certainly we'll send a copy of it to On. Re an I'm still alive email, I'm afraid, he doesn't correspond electronically…'

Please note, modern reader, that On Kawara had the same dismissive attitude to email in 2002 that I did in 1998!

I've also been in touch with Jonathan Watkins this year, in order to ask him more about the show. He was most obliging, and what he said needs to be shared here. The show at Ikon was 'off the shelf'. By which Jonathan meant that On Kawara had come up with the idea for it. It was the artist who wanted the 36 years of Sunday Date Paintings shown alongside a large number of 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams and the Million Years work. Perhaps On Kawara felt that the I GOT UP postcards had already had enough exposure.

What actually swung it for the Ikon as first venue, was that On Kawara wanted Jonathan Watkins to write the main essay for the monograph about OK's work that Phaidon were preparing. If he was to take on that job, On Kawara would readily agree to Birmingham as the host for 'Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hills'.

I have worked out for myself that the catalogue that was produced for the show which began in Ikon, and went on to eleven other international venues, may have been largely prepared by Frank Gautherot, the director of the second venue, Le Consortium, Dijon, in France. Here is the cover:


The book contains an odd set of essays. Hence my dismissive line through them on the contents page (see below). However, I now know that On Kawara selected all the essays, so I understand why they bear so little direct relation to his work. They are tangential. Some are difficult to understand. They give clues as to where the artist is coming from. And the day Jonathan told me this, I gladly reinstated them:


Let's go through these essays, giving each its own space.

1) Kahlil Gibran. 'On Friendship'. Timeless spiritual wisdom from the man who was born in Lebanon in 1883. He moved to America and was a very productive cult writer and artist.

The extract begins with a youth asking a wise man about friendship, and ends with an astronomer asking the sage about time.To the astronomer, the master replies:

'Yet the timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream. And that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.'

I should say that Gibran died when he was 48, from an illness brought on by excessive alcohol consumption over a number of years.


2) Osho. 'Know the Knower and the Known'. This Indian preacher was born in 1931. The essay is from a 1998 reprint and makes reference to the philosophy of George Gurdjieff, who said that while listening, know the speaker and also know the listener (yourself). Your knowledge must be double-arrowed, pointing to two points - the knower and the known.

Each thing is perceived through knowing.
The self shines in space through knowing
Perceive one being as knower and known.

This sutra leads you to a mid-point which is neither the knower or the known, but a witnessing self which knows both.

The piece culminates in this paragraph: 'Buddha says again and again that when thought arises, look at it. A thought of misery, a thought of happiness arises - look at it. It comes to a climax - look at it. Then it starts falling down - look at it. Then it disappears - look at it. Arising, existing, dying, and you remain just witness; go on looking at it. This third point makes you witness, and to be a witness is the highest possibility of consciousness.'

Osho moved from India to the United States where he set up a cult in Oregon with himself at the centre. He was sometimes known as the sex guru because of his emphasis on freedom and ordinary self-fulfilment. In other words, he wasn't always just witnessing. He once came up with a set of Ten Commandments 'just for fun'. Four of them he underlined:

1) Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you also.
2) There is no God other than life itself.
3) Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere.
4) Love is prayer.
5) To become a nothingness is the door to truth. Nothingness itself is the means, the goal and attainment.
6) Life is now and here.
7) Live wakefully.
8) Do not swim—float.
9) Die each moment so that you can be new each moment.
10) Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.

His empire was built on personal charisma and was controversial. He was forced to return to India, where he died aged 58, unable to throw off an illness that had come on from his treatment in America.


3) Kajin Yamamoto. 'A Philosophic Study of Cosmic Consciousness' This text from 1974 includes a definition of the Universe as follows:

The Universe is:
1) Itself an ego of immense magnitude.
2) Itself a conscious entity
3) A consciousness that is being "personified".
4) Life itself; and
5) A site in which all beings function.

This essay includes the following conclusion:

'My mind to think of God is God's mind to think of me.
God's consciousness to create the world is concretely manifested in our consciousness to perceive things.'

The study concludes: 'The only absolute truth is: Cosmic Consciousness is the supreme principle. There is no law that does not follow this truth; conversely, all laws (including the laws of physics) may actually be modified by consciousness.'

I do not pretend to follow the essay's argument, but nor am I disturbed by remaining an imperfect reader. Instead, I float along (as Osho would have me do), trusting that On Kawara is not intent on bamboozling his supporters, but genuinely pointing out an alternative vision of life and how to live it.


4) Jiddu Kirshnamurti and David Bohm 'What Future Does Man Have?"

Jiddu Krishnamurti was a spiritual teacher, public speaker, and writer, on psychological, sociological, and spiritual subjects. He was 85 when he talked with David Bohm, who was 63 at the time. Their conversations are highly regarded and include a book called
The Ending of Time.

The extract selected by On Kawara is from
Questioning Krishnamurti. It covers 20 pages. And although I have read the full text, I'm not sure how much I have understood. It's like watching two grandmaster chess players in action. Each move is simple enough, but one has to accept there is an awful lot going on in the head of the person who has just pushed his pawn from one black square to another.

JK: "As we were saying some time ago, thought is time."

DB: "Yes, all right, thought is time. That requires more discussion too. Because you see the first experience is to say that time is there first, and thought is taking place in time."

JK: "Ah, no."

DB: "For example, if we say that movement is taking place, the body is moving, and this requires time."

JK: "To go from here to there needs time, to learn language needs time, to paint a picture takes time."

DB: "You see the first point one would tend to look at is to say that just as everything takes time, to think takes time. And you are saying something else, which is thought is time."

JK: "Thought is time."

DB: "That is, psychically speaking, psychologically speaking. Now, how do we understand that? That thought is time. You see it is not obvious."

From the start of the conversation, it is accepted that the world is in turmoil, and that the cause of this is human thought. Whereas I would have thought that the turmoil is exactly balanced out by the equanimity, adding up to zero. And that human thought leads to as much peace as it does war, again adding up to zero. Besides, whether there is misery or happiness all around, surely it doesn't matter to the witness, the watcher
from the hills. But let us dip back into the conversation. Here is something that David Bohm, the Western scientist, contributes several pages into it:

DB: "All that you are saying, you know, seems very reasonable, but I think it goes so strongly against the tradition we are used to that it will be extraordinarily hard, generally speaking, for people to really understand…"

Too true. And here is something that Jiddu Kirshnamurti, the Eastern philosopher, says right at the end:

JK: "How does one make others see all this? They haven't time, the energy, even the inclination, they want to be amused. How does one make 'X' see this whole thing so clearly that he says, "All right, I have got it, I will work, and I am responsible", and all the rest of it. I think there is the tragedy of those who see and those who do not."

This is not made any easier by the fact that an additional 'I' is placed in the final sentence in error. So we read 'I think there is the tragedy of those who I see and those who do not." Now that doesn't help, does it?

I can imagine On Kawara reading this in the printed book and being perturbed by the typo. But then I can imagine him remembering that he is a watcher. Just as he watched his perturbance flare up, so he watches it fall away. Flaring up, existing, falling away: and he remains just witness throughout. And to be a witness is the highest possibility of consciousness.


5) Ikuro Adachi. 'Three Kinds of "Consciousness"' This essay was published in Japan in 1995. It comes from The Law of Undulation, a 2007 paperback that is currently the 9,317,008 bestseller on Amazon. For comparative purposes, Personal Delivery is currently occupying the 5,253,039th spot

Three kinds of consciousness. One is found in the brain, that's the one we are familiar with. One is centred in the pancreas, which regulates our cells so that our various body parts are constantly and accurately regrown. This is achieved through wave transmission. And one (level of consciousness) is at the sub-atomic level. The essay repeats five times that there are 82 trillion cells in a human body, perhaps to suggest that there is so much we don't know about it.

In a section about Consciousness (neutrons) and Volition (protons) of the EXA PIECO the third type of consciousness), it is said that the consciousness that exists in the brain uses 5% of the cerebrum. Another 5% is involved with the FIK (that consciousness embodied in the pancreas), leaving 80% apparently unused. The suggestion is that the rest of the brain is in some way connected to the EXA PIECO, which is the consciousness that is shared by all humans, animals and minerals. That's a level of consciousness not tied to the body, and which lives on when the body dies.


6) Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose. 'Conscious Events as Orchestrated Space-Time Selections.'

If the previous 6-page essay comes across as a tease, then what can be said about the 20-pager that concludes the batch of essays? Clue. On first reading it, before knowing that On Kawara had selected it, I wrote the words 'fuck me!' across its first page, which was the moment when I turned to the contents page of
On Kawara: Consciousness. Meditation. Watcher on the hills and put a line through the batch of essays. Let's have another go…

Sir Roger Penrose (born 1931) is a British mathematician, mathematical physicist and philosopher of science. Penrose has made contributions to the mathematical physics of general relativity and cosmology. He has received several prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize in Physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for the Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems, and one half of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity".

A much acclaimed Western scientist, then. This essay focuses on the first of the three levels of consciousness referred to in essay 5. So we're dealing with the brain, not the pancreas. A key term seems to be Objective Reduction or OR. There is plenty on quantum theory and lots about microtubules. So it's where sub-atomic physics meets biology.

The conclusion asks 'What is it like to be a worm?' In other words, can very simple, even single-cell organism's be conscious? In some ways, this is beside the point, just as the second and third levels of consciousness identified by Ikuro Adachi may be beside the point. We have trouble enough trying to think about consciousness in the human brain, I suspect.

The final paragraph reads: 'Consciousness has an important place in the universe. Orch OR in microtubules is a model depicting consciousness as sequences of non-computable
self-selections in fundamental space-time geometry. If experience is a quality of space-time, then Orch OR indeed begins to address the 'hard problem' of consciousness in a serious way.'

I could be wrong, but I don't think that is saying very much. The science would seem to be at a very early stage. Having said that, it's not me that has the Nobel Prize for Physics, it's Sir Roger Penrose, whose uncle was the artist, Roland Penrose.

Why had I scored out the list of essays in the first place? Partly because I was already disenchanted by the volume's 60-page section of too small, slightly blurred, black-and-white repros of the I AM STILL ALIVE telegrams. An opportunity lost.

It is an odd contents page (see below). That 60-page section of telegrams I refer to is not even listed. It's all part of 'Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the hills' which covers almost 200 pages of the book. Half of the contents page is given to the documentation of a show called
Pure Consciousness. This was another, earlier show that On Kawara had come up with the idea for.


Pure Consciousness, then. A painting from each of the first seven days of January 1997, were hung in a kindergarten for five and six-year-olds (the show's first and primary audience), beginning in Sydney in 1998. Again the idea was that this show would tour a range of schools in cities around the world, though not clockwise this time. I wonder if this was On Kawara's first full-blown 'curation' of his own work. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, the artist allowed trusted collaborators to initiate curatorial ideas, which On Kawara co-operated with. Indeed the show, Horizontality/Verticality, curated by Kasper König, for a gallery in Munich between October 2000 and January 2001 is an example of this. The fact that it focussed on I GOT UP postcards and I WENT maps, to the exclusion of all else, may even have fed into the structure of 'Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hills', which features no postcards and no maps.

The foreword to the 'Consciousness, Meditation, Watcher on the Hills' volume, written, I'm told, by Jonathan Watkins, though also attributed to Frank Gautherot, reads as follows:

'No artists statement here, as ever, no portrait of the artist and no interview. Furthermore, there are no newspaper cuttings to provide commentary of current affairs for Date Paintings and no colourful postcards.'

(Which is not to dismiss the existence of I READ or the I GOT UP series, I'd like to think.)

'Being "still alive" for almost forty years is embodied essentially in this exhibition, forty years that take up four lines in the twenty books of two million years. Counting them down, year by year, day by day, is conducive to meditation…

(I wish it said 36 years rather than 'almost forty'. That sort of imprecision is not really On Kawara's style. But then I checked and there were 38 paintings in the exhibition. In which case the rounding-up is forgivable.)

…is conducive to a consciousness that equates a kindergarten child with an esoteric philosopher, a professor of mathematics with a seemingly self-taught-man, a cave man with a watcher on the hills.'

(The kindergarten child takes us back to the Pure Consciousness show of a few years before. The esoteric philosopher could be Jiddu Kirshnamurti, Osho or Kajin Yamamoto. The professor of mathematics is Roger Penrose. The seemingly self-taught-man might be Ikuro Adachi. Not sure about the cave man, unless he is there to complement the watcher on the hills: On Kawara himself.)

'There is too much and therefore nothing for the artist to say.'

Do you know, revered reader, I think I'm going to revisit the Ikon show with the help of images of the actual installation. So here we are, back at the Ikon. And what a relief it is to see the Sundays all lined up in chronological order. Mostly near-black days, it has to be said.

Ikon Gallery, 2002.

Let me pause for a second or two in front of each painting:

JANUARY 30,1966: one of the initial long paintings, because the whole month is spelt out…

NOV.12,1967. Painted in the second studio on East 13th Street in New York…

9 JUNE,1968. Painted in Mexico with the I GOT UP series etc underway…

16 FEV.1969. On the move through South America. Brazil, I think…

MAY 31,1970. Shortly after the three months of doing a painting every day. The first painting not size B since December 1969, I happen to recall…

NOV. 21,1971. Still in New York…

AUG.27 1972. Still in New York. Getting towards the end of the paintings with sub-titles other than the day of the week on which it was painted….

11 FEV. 1973. In Paris having just left Stockholm….

MAR. 17,1974. I haven't got to 1974 in my research yet. Ha! So much still to look into.

I walk faster past the pictures representing 1974, 1975, 1976 (this one would have been painted in Berlin), 1977, 1978, 1979 (the end of I GOT UP, I MET and I WENT ), 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 (this appeared in the second show at Lisson). Hang on, let's stop there…

OCT.14,1984. I presume that this was shown at Lisson in 1985. I've seen an installation shot with October 11, 12 and 13 in it, with space for an October 14, so I expect that was indeed the case…

…1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991… Let's stop there.

APR.28,1991. That's just before the May paintings, beginning with MAY 7,1991 that I saw at Lisson in 1992. Perhaps this was also part of the Lisson's batch at the time. Interesting that MAY19,1991, although used in the publicity is not part of the show. Though MAY 19,1991 was indeed a Sunday and so could have been used…

…1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996,1997…

Ikon Gallery, 2002.

AUG.23,1998. Two paintings were made on this day. They hang one above the other. The 1999 painting is round the corner of the gallery, on a wall that is out of sight. It's an October, 1999 Date Painting, but I want to pause here for a moment. Because this was when so much was happening in my life. This is the dead centre of my lived years, one could say. Personal Delivery was published in September of 1998 after ten years of 'unsuccessful' writing, that same month, to my delight, my favourite creative person, David Bowie, showed an interest, and I was given a column in the Independent on Sunday. The latter only lasted for 19 Sundays, but do I mean 'only'? This show is 'only' of 38 Date Paintings which is 'only' double the number of my Sindy Sundays. I need to stop right here and physically reinstate those 'Public Views', those 'Adventures in Contemporary Art'.

Sept. 20, 1998 Pavement Artists (Tony Peakall)
Sept. 27, 1998 Stuff and Nonsense (Gavin Turk)
Oct. 4, 1998 A Single Moment (Peter Joseph)
Oct. 11, 1998 Speed of Life (group show)
Oct. 18, 1998 The Hanging Man (Carl von Weiler)
Oct. 25, 1998 Under African/British Skies (Chris Offili)
Nov. 1, 1998 Puck Romeo (Emma Kay)
Nov. 8, 1998 The Four Corners (Mark Wallinger)
Nov. 15, 1998 A Date with An Artist (Sam Taylor Wood)
Nov. 22, 1998 Vagina Dentata (Cathy de Monchaux)
Nov. 29, 1998 Walking (Hamish Fulton)
Dec. 6, 1998 Performance Architecture (Julian Maynard Smith)
Dec. 13, 1998 Strategies for Survival (Richard Billingham)
Dec. 20, 1998 Standing Stone (Andy Goldsworthy)
Jan 10, 1999 Reference Library (Rachel Whiteread)
Jan. 17, 1999 Snow Sculpture (Kerry Stewart)
Jan. 24, 1999 Inverleith House (group show)
Jan. 31, 1999 Hirolulu (Satomi Matoba)
Feb 7, 1999 Andreas Gursky

I've linked each piece to the paper's archive. That is the only way any of them will ever be read again. Though each piece is surrounded by distracting and irrelevant adverts. Things must remain financially difficult for the

I've looked at On Kawara's
100 Year Calendar for the 20th Century, stared at it though a magnifying glass, and can confidently say that he did not paint a Date Painting on any of the above Sundays, except January 24, 1999. That one's not included in the show. The show, I remind myself, consists of just one Sunday Date Painting per year, while in some years there were 10 or 20 or even 30 painted Sundays. That last figure applies only to those most productive years, 1966 and 1967.

Can I bear to pass on? The 'Let Time Pass' bench comes to mind. I pass on. Besides, there are only four more paintings in the exhibition:


OCT.10,1999. I was writing a set of reviews for the paper every second Sunday by this time. Not a patch on the literary ambition of my column, but something visible that often led to other opportunities. My reviews appeared on the Sunday before and the Sunday after October 10, as it happens.

JAN.9,2000. Likewise, my reviews appeared the Sunday before and the Sunday after this January 9.

JULY1,2001. I did have a piece in the paper on July 1, 2001. But it only consisted of two short reviews. Janet Street Porter was on the way out after two short years as editor, and the arts journalism was being squeezed out too.

And that's it. End of show. End of God's own job. What a downbeat finish! But no matter, because something occurred to me as I was 'walking' round the show which, I hope, is going to turn things around. I've a feeling that On Kawara, watching from the hills, would be proud of me.

Tomorrow is Sunday, August 1, 2021. The first day of the last month of summer. Moreover, the day features in 'Consciousness. Meditation. Watcher on the Hills.' Let's look to the catalogue - a companion volume to the first - that was published after the show's round the world tour, which ended in 2006.


Installation shots are included for each location, but
1.AUG.1976 remains invisible until Braunschweig in Germany. Perhaps that's appropriate, as it was while living in Berlin that On Kawara painted this day. The following (see below) page in the book suggests to me that the Date Painting was turned into a publicity leaflet. No need for a German gallery to look to the Lisson for high quality images.

Les presses du réel and Ikon Gallery, 2007.

Actually, I think the curation really did take advantage of the fact that the above is the one painting in the show that was made in Germany. So that would be why it's the basis of the leaflet, and of a small publication, and that's why it was given such a prominent position in the show. In the triptych of photos that follow, see how
1.AUG.1976 has been given a room of its own, thanks to the spacing between earlier pictures - and subsequent ones - that was arbitrarily decided on. In other words, 1.AUG.1976 is in the middle photo on its own.

Les presses du réel and Ikon Gallery, 2007.

A front-on picture of 1.AUG.1976 is shown below:

Les presses du réel and Ikon Gallery, 2007.

Ironically, the word 'Bangkok' (not Berlin) that can be read in the above pic (above and left of the painting), is leakage from the next right-hand page in the catalogue.

1.AUG.1976 was back to being just one Date Painting amongst many in Bangkok, but there is a photo of it in the catalogue. That's it below, second from the left:

Les presses du réel and Ikon Gallery, 2007.

July 6, 1980, is the show-stopper in this image, purely because of its size.

No sign of AUG.1,1976 in the Singapore or Toyota, Japan, set-ups, but in New Plymouth, New Zealand, it is placed close to the show's signage. Though that may not be obvious from my reproduction below, it's clear enough in the book:

Les presses du réel and Ikon Gallery, 2007.

Again, no sign of AUG.1,1976 in the documentation of the Mexico City curation, but it's just visible far left in the image below, which is the set up in Toronto.

Les presses du réel and Ikon Gallery, 2007.

Tomorrow I will paint AUG.1,2021. But to warm up for that essential bit of business, let me do bit more research on On Kawara and August the first. Below is a list of all the occasions that On Kawara painted this date. (I have scrutinised both relevant 100-Year Calendars.)

AUG.1, 1969
AUG.1, 1971
AUG.1, 1975
AUG.1, 1976
AUG.1, 1981
AUG.1, 1998
AUG.1, 1999
AUG.1, 2005

In 1971, August 1 was painted twice. Making nine paintings in all. Given that there are 365 days in the year this would multiply up to 3.285 Date paintings in all, if all the other days in the year had been painted the same number of times as August 1. And as the total number of On Kawara Date Paintings is nearly 3000 (per Anne Wheeler in
On Kawara: SILENCE) this means it was a fairly typical day. Eight paintings would have multiplied up to 2.920 Date Paintings in all, so if one ignores the duplicate made in 1972, that makes AUG.1, completely typical!

Are these paintings reproduced in the literature? Well,
AUG.1,1969 doesn't seem to be. Its subtitle is "The blue haze that some say is on Mars may not exist." The two AUG.1,1971 paintings are reproduced in On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity:

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

But then, on one double-page, so is every DP that was made that year. The double-page utilised for the 1969 paintings just shows
JULY 20,1969 and JULY 21,1969. Effectively, AUG.1, 1969 lost out because of the attention paid to the lunar landing.

AUG.1,1975 is reproduced on David Zwirmer's website. I will have this on my desktop at just the right size tomorrow when I start to pencil in the characters: AUG,1.

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

AUG.1,1976. We know all about that picture. It went clockwise around the world and must have been photographed many times at each location.

AUG.1,1981. This painting is almost as well-travelled as AUG 1,1976. Kasper König chose it as one of 24 Date paintings by On Kawara, one of each from the years 1966 to 1988. The 24 DPs were shown in juxtaposition to 24 other works by other artists, in four different cities over four continents. The first showing was in Frankfurt, Germany. The image below shows AUG.1,1981 as highest of a group of three Date Paintings.

Photo credit: Katrin Schilling.

The show was called
On Kawara: Again and Against. König explains where this came from: 'The different approaches of the four exhibitions were not only supported by the formal correlations of the works, the arrangement of which programmatically was mainly determined by the pun proposed by On Kawara as the title for the exhibition, "Again and Against" - in German "Weider und Wider", two phonetically identical words. It's possible that three shows titled by Kasper König, were based on On Kawara suggestions. Giving due weight to the artist's observation that Japanese thinking was not based on the one thing, but the thing and its complement. Thus:

On Kawara: continuity/discontinuity. 1980/1981. Stockholm, Essen, Eindhoven and Osaka.
On Kawara: Again and Against. 1989/90. Frankfurt, Chicago, Nagoya and Sydney.
On Kawara: Horizontality/Verticality. 2000/01 Munich.

In each case, Kasper
König managed to publish a book in conjunction with the project. For which the world should remain forever grateful. In Ursula Meyer's book Conceptual Art, she reports a conversation with On Kawara that took place in 1970. 'He enjoys punning the self-seriousness of artists - "Recreation is more important than creation," he said.'

I like the idea of that:
On Kawara: Recreation/Creation. An alternative title for this whole project.

AUG.1, 1989 and AUG.1,1990 don't seem to be reproduced in the literature. Though I dare say I've overlooked some website or other that records them. To my delight the last of On Kawara's first of August's has been captured by a photograph. The photographer was Candida Höfer, and here it is on the left of six paintings from August and September, 2005:


Candida Höfer, On Kawara

Do we need to see that closer up? I think we do.


Candida Höfer, On Kawara

OK here we go. It's the August 1, 2021. I've decided not to give this Date Painting two undercoats of burnt Sienna or an other dark base. I want the ultramarine to sing. Besides, I've had friends to stay overnight (I MET: Kate Clayton, George Pope, Bridget McGuire) and they have only just left the building at noon, restricting my options.


Today's lettering in pencil goes better than on previous days. This is for two reasons. First, because I have finally invested in a set-square (which crops up in photographs taken when On Kawara was making several of his Date Paintings), meaning I can have more confidence in my verticals. Second, the high-quality images I have of AUG.1,1975 and MAR.12, 2012, which I have on my computer screen at a 1:1 scale with the painting I'm making, mean that I don't have to be taking measurements then scaling them up, introducing the possibility of small errors. If the thickness of a letter is 0.5 cm on screen, then the thickness of the letter on my canvas has to be 0.5 cm.


Another change from earlier paintings is illustrated in the next photograph. Instead of going through all the characters fairly roughly, I'm doing them one at time until they are more or less finished. They are not
absolutely finished, that is for sure. But they are as good as they can be without going back to the ultramarine to begin the long process of sorting out the edges.


This is definitely a superior technique, and one closer to the technique used by On Kawara. You get satisfaction from each completed letter, which feeds back to your brain, leaving you less tired and more inspired to keep going at a high level of concentration.


Having said that, I've gone a bit over my edge at the top-right end of the G. And there is nothing I can do about it until the white paint has dried and I can correct the mistake with blue on my brush. That is going to niggle me. But, no, I am at the mid-point between the person doing the painting and the painting itself. I am witnessing the process of painting the date. Which may indeed be the highest level of consciousness…

I've even made a decent job of the 2s for a change. But it doesn't matter. I'm just watching. Alive, alive-oh.


I've now been back and forth between blue and white several times. It's not perfect, but it is good enough. This is where I depart from On Kawara's technique, his temperament. I do not continue to make the painting better and better. I take this as my cue to start playing around with it.


Which means taking photographs of the 'finished' painting and putting it both on Facebook and Twitter. I do this in order to take advantage of the fact that the painting was started and finished on this day. The very day that people are still enjoying all over the world.


And with that sent out into the world, via social media, something good happens. Something visionary.


This is where we are. Let me interpret the vision. On Kawara is up on the golden hill, witnessing. I am sitting at my computer, witnessing…

What we're witnessing is a great clockwise movement round the earth. It consists of a 38-year period and is represented by Date Paintings from each of those years. On Kawara's concentrated time, his timeless vision, spearheaded by AUG.1,1976 cum 2021. Why 2021? That's the year from which we're witnessing the 38-year time-block.

I watch the time-zone move round the earth from Birmingham to Dijon to Geneva to Kleve to Braunscwheig to Bangkok to Singapore to Toyota to New Plymouth to Mexico City to Toronto to Lima… Actually, although strictly speaking that route
is clockwise, it's by no means simply west to east, as you can see from this map of the master's route. Beginning from Birmingham, England:


I dare say the plan was to get further stops for the show in the Middle East, or in Afghanistan/India. But sometimes arrangements fall through. And the move from Toronto to Lima is far more a southern movement than it is an eastern one. But, obviously, that doesn't matter. What matters is that collected time-zone, that 38-year time-span, making its way around the world. There is something inevitable about this movement. Something that On Kawara would seem to have had in mind from the start.

Why do I say that? Well, take a glance at this diagram. It's from Ikuro Idachi's essay, 'Three Kinds of Consciousness' included in
Consciousness. Meditation. Watcher on the hills, and it seals the deal. It's funny. Is it scientific? I don't know, we must ask Sir Roger Penrose. Is it true? Does it matter? It is aspirational. It talks of love. It talks of the souls of humans, animals, plants and rocks. It shows 12 stops. A clockwise movement through precisely twelve stops, as hours in the day, or as hours in the night, or as venues in On Kawara's world tour.

Ikuro Idachi. Illustration from 'Three Kinds of Consciousness'

At the same time, and in another dimension, there was and is a great chronological movement happening. Again this is spearheaded by AUG.1. But this time it starts with AUG.1 1969 and rolls through AUG.1,1971…AUG.1,1975…AUG.1,1976…AUG.1,1981…AUG.1,1998…AUG.1,1999…AUG.1,2005…AUG.1,2021…

Yes, I have made a small contribution to this movement. This movement which looks unstoppable to me.

Midnight strikes. Tomorrow - today! - I must start again from scratch.