1975 (2)




This essay is complete in itself and can be read without even having glanced at its 'first half'. But that first half is waiting
here for your interest.


PART ONE: SEPTEMBER

This time we're off from New York to the Great Lakes:

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I think it's worth setting out the road trips taken since the one to and from Nova Scotia, eastern Canada, in summer 1973. First, the red route right across the States and back towards the end of 1973. Then the blue route to Florida and back in 1974 (on top of the flight to Switzerland). Then the green route to and from Texas in January 1975. And now, in September 1975, the yellow route. Always starting from and ending at the Kawaras home in New York. All colours both mine and arbitrary.

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I've marked Cleveland as the first stop of this latest adventure, but now realise the Kawaras stopped at Harrisburg on the way to Cleveland, though not long enough for any Date Painting. Nevertheless I'll start there.



STOP 1: HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA

September 7, 1975. Arrive.
September, 8. Whatever.
September 9, 1975. Depart.

It would have taken about two and three quarter hours to cover the 170 miles. Oh, the thrill of checking in to the nearest thing to a Holiday Inn in the city. Oh, the joy of setting the alarm for 9am and stamping a postcard as soon as the alarm went off. (A joke. I do not think for one minute that On Kawara used an alarm clock.)

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

The recipient of the postcard was Frank Donegan. A quick Google search does not identify him. Which is unusual. But no doubt some fact will surface in due course. In the meantime, let's explore…

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

Come to think of it, after arriving on September the 7th and departing on September the 9th, it's surprising that On Kawara didn't Date Paint on that middle day, September 8. It seems that the trip to Boiling Springs (see that name on the left edge of the above map) took up most of the day, whether accidentally or not, leaving insufficient time to do a Date Painting.

Here is view of the back of the hotel, which is now a Quality Inn rather than a Nationwide Inn.

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And below is a view from the front of the hotel. A fine, wide, calming autumnal view over the Susquehanna River.

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Hiroko: "Isn't it good to be out of New York?"

On: "Isn't it good to be on the road again?"

Hiroko: "The Date Painting can wait."

On: "Not for much longer."



STOP 2: CLEVELAND, OHIO

September 9, 1975. Arrive.
September, 10. 1975. Date Paint.
September 11, 1975. Depart.

It's 330 miles between Harrisburg and Cleveland. Say five and a half hours of driving. Worth it when you get there? Well, let's see.

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

The hotel is at the edge of Lake Erie.

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

If the hotel was a high-rise, there would have been a great view. But was it a high-rise? I'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, let's take a look at what On Kawara managed to achieve here.

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

The extract from the paper is dominated by stories about the lake.

Let's explore along the lines that the Kawaras did on September 10, 1975. From the above I WENT one sees that their route was basically triangular, and I don't know whether they first went to Terminal Tower on the left, or Cleveland Art Museum, on the right, but those are the places they visited. Let's say the art gallery came first, that's in the red-lined area to the right in the full map above, and at the top of the red biro lines in the map extract below.


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

I think the gallery has grown considerably since 1975. Below is the view now. As seen from the direction that the Kawaras approached it.

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Inside, they may have spent time with the Piccasso, or the large Monet water-lilies, or the five van Goghs, or anything really. Below is the Van Gogh that floats my boat. A view of two trees in the Alps, with some kind of a house seemingly trapped between them. It was painted while the artist was incarcerated at Saint Remy, a year or so before his death, though clearly he was allowed out from time to time. For a little Day Painting?

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Vincent Van Gogh, Two Poplars in the Alps, 1889

The point of seeing a Van Gogh in the 'flesh' is to appreciate its painterly qualities. Now that many of the paintings are remarkably well illustrated online, as in this case, there may be no need to travel the world anymore, wasting fuel and warming the planet!

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Vincent Van Gogh, Two Poplars in the Alps (detail), 1889

Next stop seems to have been Terminal Tower, the left hand point of the triangular route marked in red in the full map above. The two 'extra' red lines suggest that On entered the building, perhaps to go to the observation platform which involves one lift journey, then a walk along a corridor before a second lift journey takes you even higher.

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

The red tack in the aerial photo below marks the observation deck near the top of Terminal Tower. I imagine the view of Lake Eiry would have been impressive. The height above the ground impresses me on screen, but it's possible that On and Hiroko, being from New York, were less impressed. What was it that Hiroko mentioned in her letter to the museum director in Bern? That On was considering getting a studio flat at the top of the Empire State Building, but was put off by the lack of AIR (her capitals) at such a height.

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Time to find the hotel while dress we have from the I GOT UP card. Well, Google tells me that this green patch (see below) was at 5700 South Marginal Road. But there is no building here now or in 2011, as you can see…

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Let's further explore Google's archive. Success! Here is the same view but from 2007. I think there is a brown kind of cover, or tarpaulin, placed over what would have been the lake-facing windows.

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Could that really have been the hotel? More research needed…

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What I said above is not quite right. That wasn't a brown tarpaulin over the windows, this latest find suggests that the previous image was a view of the side wall of the building.

I have to say that I'm loving Cleveland, but it's for a reason that will not be obvious yet to the reader. So let's put that right. The indy band Pere Ubu came from this town and they were formed in 1975, led by David Thomas, who is still making inspired and outlandish music in Ohio today.

I have all the early albums.
The Modern Dance, Dub Housing, New Picnic Time, The Art of Walking, etc. One of Thomas's songwriting high-points came in 1985, with the release of Monster Walks the Winter Lake. For sure he was thinking about Lake Eiry. It's just possible that he was thinking about HoJo's hotel, lakeside. After all the song includes the line:

"The monster stands at the edge
Of the winter lake."


Why don't I book into Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge for two nights, at least notionally? I say that because tomorrow is September 10, 2021 and I have a strong urge to spend the day painting the date.

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I get up at 8.29a.m. The first thing I do, in my imagination, is walk to the window of my tenth floor room. The view is supremely bleak. Grey-black misty water from here to the horizon. But that needn't change my plans.

I am all set up with my diary for 1975. I say 'my' diary, but it was my father's. He worked for British Gypsum, part of BPB Industries, and he had no need for the handsome, hardback books that he was presented with each year. So he handed them over to me. I have a shelf of them in my shed, from 1975 to 1983. So that makes nine years Dad gave me, just for starters. I have made written entries in some days, doodled in others, while some have been left blank. My father literally handed me these years, and put no pressure on me to do anything with them. "Be yourself," was all the instruction I got. A gift I have come to value.

Anyway, here goes with the first coat of Burnt Umber…

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That will take 45 minutes to dry. I take the British Gypsum ashtray off the diary (BPB Industries was a profitable enough concern to go in for corporate memorabilia of all sorts), and turn to today's date: 10 September. Here it is:

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I find the printed words in the diary more interesting than my own pen-written ones. Perhaps that's to be expected. What did I know then, as a boy who was going on seventeen?

My father knew plenty. He knew about building materials from his time as a slater in Blairgowrie. He knew about the building industry from visiting building sites all around Scotland. He was quickly promoted through the ranks to national Product Manager, and we as a family moved from Hamilton (near the Glasgow works), to Carlisle (near the East Leek mine), to Hemel Hempstead (within commuting distance of the group HQ on Marylebone High Street).

Dad was well remunerated for his competence. He knew that he was buying me and my brother time, and a different sort of life from the one that he'd felt he'd no choice but to pursue. But he didn't pretend to know what kind of life ours would turn out to be. He was too busy coping with his own lot: working the 9 to 5 with total commitment, plus an hour-long commute, both ways.

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OK that's the second coat of umber applied.

I owe my father a lot. I suspect that On Kawara owed his father a fair bit as well, though that's largely speculative. To recap, On Kawara's father was a director of an engineering firm. The firm had work in Mexico which is what allowed the 26-year-old On to escape from travel-restricted Japan in 1959, his father acting as his financial guarantor. He stayed in Mexico for four years. He settled in New York. He did not return to Japan until that three-month visit from November 1970 to February 1971. It goes without saying that On's parents would have missed their brilliant son. It goes without saying that they had done what they could to set him free. So free that on September 10th, 1975, he found himself in a hotel room overlooking Lake Erie painting the date.

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That's the first coat of Payne's Grey.

I'm determined for this painting to go well. And so after the second coat of Payne's Gray has dried, I try a new technique. Instead of pencilling in the letters, I create a box for each letter. This means that if my spacing doesn't work out, I would be able to adjust.

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But as it is, things are fine, and I go ahead and pencil in the letters.

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Soon I am painting, in the knowledge that the part of the process requiring most concentration is done. Mind you, taking a photo with my phone while holding the paintbrush convincingly close to the canvas is not easy.

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I suppose I should reveal that from the beginning of the pencil work I have had a reproduction of SEPT.10, 1975 on screen at exactly the right size, and have been taking measurements from it. Though to help me with the 2021 part of the composition I've made use of a Date Painting from earlier in the month.

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At some stage of the painting process I become aware of an odd pattern, On January 1 1975, On Kawara sat in a high rise in Houston, Texas, called 2100 Memorial Drive, painting the date. That same day he had been to the city's art gallery where Van Gogh's The Rocks hangs. On September 10, 1975, On Kawara sat in a high rise in Cleveland, Ohio, known as 'Lakefront Lodge' , painting the date. That same day he had been to the city's art gallery where another Saint Remy masterpiece by Van Gogh hangs, Two Poplar Trees in the Alps'. What does it mean, if anything? Perhaps that will become clearer as this road-trip continues.

At some stage I switch on the record player. It's the good quality machine that I've inherited from my parents, and it rests on a piece of teak furniture that comes from their house. I think we bought the record player, our family's first, in 1972. My father's first record buy was Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, and boy did Dad get his money's worth out of it! This record is mine though, 'Monster Walks the Winter Lake'.

He pours his soul into the song, does the singer. Could David Thomas possibly be the monster of which he sings about? I'm not sure. Dad was no monster. Of course not. More likely it's me. Because when you break the normal bonds of life, as artists tend to do, that's when the risk of becoming a 'monster' dramatically rise. In my case, instead of wife and children, I have burrows. This website being one of them.

"What kind of price to pay for no comfort.
No comfort."

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It gets dark. I keep playing the song. Getting up from my painting every time the ten-minute cycle comes to an end. I'm getting close to the end of my task too. But must stick with it for a while longer. And that's what I do. I stick with it.

That wonderful song has the most moving lyrics, ending with:

'Monster says:
"When I'm gone,
When I'm gone.
Just don't say I never gave ya anything."'

Which gets repeated, heartbreakingly. Then:

'"It's not so bad, is it?
It's not so bad, is it?
Not so bad, is it?
…To be with me."'

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STOP 3: DETROIT, MICHIGAN

September 12, 1975. Arrive.
September 13. 1975. Date Paint.
September 14, 1975. Date Paint.
September 15, 1975. Depart.

It's 170 miles to the other side of Lake Erie and the motor city of Detroit, which takes about three hours to drive. Which must seem like nothing when you know you've got a Holiday Inn waiting at the far end of your journey.

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

Let us settle into the new city in the usual way.


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

I should say that my diary entry for September 13, 1975 doesn't exist. I mean the page in my father's diary is blank.

Now we are ready to explore Detroit. Below is a detail from I WENT, September 13, 1975.

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

I've briefly investigated all the stops and can't say too much about what the Kawaras were up to. With one exception. They went here (see below) at the top left of the red biro trail:

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Detroit is another art museum blessed with some splendid van Goghs. The Diggers from Saint Remy in 1889 catches me eye. But I must reproduce this portrait of van Gogh's postman in Arles, painted in 1888.

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Vincent Van Gogh, The Postman Roulin, 1888

The reason I reproduce it is that it allows me to bring up something that I can't ignore. In 1990, I produced actual-sized copies of a dozen or so paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. I was writing a novel called Archie Van Gogh, and the painting business was an attempt to get inside the head of someone like Vincent. I have to say that apart from Vincent Van Gogh and On Kawara, I have never attempted to paint copies of another artist's work, or make work in their style.

In this case, my background colour is not dark enough, or green enough, but otherwise it is a reasonable likeness. Or so it seems to me.

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Thus On Kawara and Vincent are certainly linked in my mind. Did On Kawara feel a special link with Van Gogh? That remains to be seen. There is already some circumstantial evidence for it, and I will be bearing the possibility in mind.

Let's get back to the hotel, though it's no longer a Holiday Inn.

This is what 1331 Trumbull Avenue (from the postcard) looks like now. The hotel, now called Trumbull and Porter, is behind a restaurant called the Red Dunn Kitchen. The dramatic wall painting is something to do with an art initiative set up by the hotel. Indeed, this little corner of Detroit would seem to be a cool place to hang out.


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This text takes us through the last five decades of the building's history.


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Going back in time from Trumbull and Porter, the hotel was called Corktown Hotel, and before that, Holiday Inn.

And here is what the Holiday Inn looked like in its heyday.


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Odd (not) that this article celebrates the fact that the Rolling Stones slept there in 1964 while saying nothing about On Kawara having Date Painted there in 1975. Cultural history is a subjective thing. Odd too that I begin to get an itch to book a room and start Date Painting every time I see a modernist hotel facade and a garish '70s roadside hotel sign. Will I be able to resist it on this occasion?

Revisiting their website, I see that Trumbull and Porter have taken advantage of the Stones connection by establishing Rolling Stones suite in room 132, which is where the band stayed overnight in 1964. It comes with a record player and some vinyl so the resident can chill to their iconic sound.

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Reproduced with the forbearance of the copyright holder, I hope.

What would an On Kawara suite consist of, over and above a king-size bed? Postcards and rubber stamps. A blank canvas so that you, the treasured guest, could spend the day making a Date Painting.

Come on Trumbull and Porter of Detroit: are you in the hotel business or not? Is immersive experience not the way forward? Not everyone is looking for a rock 'n' roll weekend, some want a more meditative escape from normality. If you're offering a blend of luxury and art, then offer choice and commit to quality… Hang on, I think that's what they are doing. Their slogan, borrowed from Detroit artist David Blair, is "I stay, even when I go". On Kawara would have approved of that. With every fabric of his being.

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STOP 4: CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

September 15, 1975. Arrive.
September 16. 1975. Date Paint.
September 17, 1975. Date Paint.
September 18, 1975. Date Paint.
September 19, 1975. Depart.

How far from Detroit to Chicago? 240 miles. Four and a half hours of fast driving.

"Come on, On."

Get a move on, On."

"On, On, on!"

"Look, Hiroko! We must be nearly there."

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And so it does. On and Hiroko are soon comfortably ensconced. Tomorrow is a new day…


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

None of the three Date paintings achieved in Chicago are reproduced in Date Paintings in 89 Cities. There is a reason for this that I'll mention later. For now, let's explore. Here is a detail of the only I WENT I have access to, that is for September 16, 1975.

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

I suspect the centre of Chicago has changed quite a bit. Those bus terminals marked on the above map are no longer there. And I suspect some of the various red marks found on the circuit signal going into - or coming out of - the underground network. It looks as if the Nineteenth Century domes of what is now the Chicago Cultural Centre were admired. And, for sure, the Kawaras explored the Art Institute of Chicago. Here is how it looks in 2021…

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In there, they have long had an excellent collection of van Goghs, that comprises no fewer than eight drawings and ten paintings. Including this:

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Vincent Van Gogh, The Artist's Bedroom, 1889

On: "Here we are at the Holiday Inn, Chicago, in the Vincent Van Gogh suite."

Hiroko: "I see he had a table."

On: "Ideal for making Date Paintings. Just move the bowl and the bottles under the bed."

Hiroko: "There are a lot of 8s in 1888."

On: "This is a copy he made of the painting that is in Amsterdam. He made two copies. This is one and the other is in the Musée D'Orsay in Paris. The copies were made in September, 1889. In any case, a Date Painter treats all characters the same."

Hiroko: "No favourites?"

On: "All the same."

This also happens to be another of the van Goghs I made a copy of back in 1990. Well, it's the particularly splendid Amsterdam original that I copied. Why would I copy a copy, even if that copy had been made by Van Gogh?

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I'm using that well known Kasper König technique of taking down one picture and replacing it with another in order to get the shot. Down went my copy of Postman Roulin; up in its place went The Artists' Bedroom.

That's enough sight-seeing let's get back to that most happening of places, the Holiday Inn.

It seems the site has been redeveloped since 1975. In the photo below, the central red tack marks 1 South Halsted Street (a per the postcard). Just across from the end of North Halsted Street. On the site there is a 46-storey building which has been there for ten years or so (and which is cut off by the top edge of the photo), and
a lower-rise building in front of it.

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Below is how that site used to look. Made up of the 14-storey Holiday Inn and its car park.

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What does it say on the iconic sign which overlooks the Kennedy Freeway that zips through the centre of Chicago? I can't quite make it out. Let's zero-in. Oh yes, of course.

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I should report on what's in my diary for September 16, 17 and 18, 1975. Nothing for September 16, and then this:

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Let's not linger over my doodling. (Crikey, what a conventional view I had on gender!)

Let's not even linger over my fast-forming Van Gogh hypothesis.

Let's just get on with this lake-storming road trip.




STOP 5: MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

September 19, 1975. Arrive.
September 20. 1975. Date Paint.
September 21, 1975. Date Paint.
September 22, 1975. Depart.

410 miles. Just over 6 hours of solid driving north-west to get from Chicago to Minneapolis.


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

There were Date Paintings made on September 20 and 21. It's the 21st I have a reproduction of. The accompanying extract cut from the local paper is small ads offering properties on the lake. Minneapolis lies on both banks of the Mississippi River, just north of the river's confluence with the Minnesota River. Apparently there are 13 lakes in the location, so the city abounds with water.

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

The photo below was taken (by Hiroko?) in the Kawaras hotel room. It shows maps of Minneapolis and postcards of the city.

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

The actual postcard that went out on September 21, I can't see on the bed. But below is the card towards the right edge of the above photo, beside what I take to be a camera case.


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Actually, I'm not 100% sure that is right. But I think I can say that the postcard below is the one that's on top of the pile of cards lying on the double bed, because of the way one skyscraper overlaps with another.

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While I'm pleased to have made theses spots, I have no progress to report concerning Frank Donegan. Who was Frank Donegan? No-one in the art world, it seems. He lived in New York, on East 28th Street, not far from a couple of On Kawara's addresses. But that doesn't get us far.

A quick look at my diary entry for September 20, 1975, then let's get out into the streets, windy autumn day or not.

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Hang on a minute, I've just realised that SEPT.20,1975 is reproduced in On Kawara: SILENCE. So I might as well place that here for completeness sake. Also it kind of wipes clean the visual palette, as it were.

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

Outside. Minneapolis is all around me. What is that at the very foot of September 21st's red route?

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

It's the Minneapolis Institute of Art, no less.

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And do we find in the permanent collection some fine examples of drawings and paintings by Vincent Van Gogh? Well, one or two. There is a drawing of Dr Gachet, Van Gogh's doctor in Auvers. And there is this olive tree composition, painted at Saint Remy in the second half of 1889. Van Gogh painted about fifteen canvases of olive trees back then. The canvas was bought through the William Hood Dunwoody Fund in the early years of the twentieth century, so it would have been on view in 1975 all right.

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Vincent Van Gogh, Olive Trees, 1889

I did not copy this painting in 1990. The nearest I came to it was this picture below, from the same Saint Remy period, showing wheat sheaves at night, done in a similar quasi-pointillist manner. The same rolling, brown autumn landscape under a great ball of a sun/moon.

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Back to Minneapolis. We don't know what took On Kawara's attention in the gallery. There is a Department of Asian Art. And within that a huge Japanese section. He and Hiroko may have spent time with this print by Hiroshige, which is famous in its own right, and because Van Gogh made a copy of it in 1887.

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Utagawa Hiroshige, Evening Shower over Ohashi Bridge and Atake, 1857

But I don't have to labour Van Gogh's links with Japan and the society that On Kawara was born into. It is his connection with humanity that is crucial, surely.

Of course, the Kawaras may have spent their whole visit looking at other exquisite Hiroshige prints, which are housed by the M.I.A. in abundance. Or absolutely anything else!

At this point, I should say this. The book (
On Kawara: Horizontality/Verticality) that provides me with reproductions of the I GOT up postcards and the I WENT maps, has been consistently providing me with this info on the day after arrival at each city. The day when On Kawara consistently visits each city's art gallery. Now if On Kawara was going to send a postcard of an exhibit, say a Van Gogh, he would pick that up during his visit to the gallery, and maybe use it the next day, which would often be a day of departure from the city.

There is a precedent, in that after visiting the Crocker Art Gallery in L.A. in November 1973, he sent a card of a Breughel painting from the collection to Ursula Meyer. I would really like to know if there are other such examples of clues as to what On Kawara had spent time looking at in each world class art collection. As yet I don't have access to those day-after-visiting-the-art-palace I GOT UP cards for September, 1975. But sooner or later I will.

Anyway, with that said, let's return to the hotel. It seems like we've been walking around for hours-days-years, even decades.

Well, of course the hotel is gone. It used to be at 400 South 10th Street, where I've placed the red tack.


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This is what the Leamington Motor Inn looked like…

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It doesn't look high class. Difficult to say though. Any stories about it? Well there's this…



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The obvious question is: 'Where was Paul McCartney when this meeting was happening?'

The answer is that he was in Room 529, the On Kawara Suite. And he was painting the date: '
AUG.23,1965'.

But hang on, On Kawara didn't start Date Painting until January 1966.

True. And John Lennon didn't meet Yoko Ono until November, 1966. So it makes perfect sense that Susan Stocking didn't mention any Japanese-born, New York-based conceptual artists in her piece for the
Minneapolis Tribune.

There is nothing online about the Kawaras stay at the Leamington Motor Inn, where On completed two Date Paintings and six postcards. It seems that in America, cultural icons can be ranked as follows:

1) The Beatles
2) The Rolling Stones
3) On Kawara

Actually, the top two rankings (both from the U.K.) might be the other way around, but you catch my drift.



STOP 6: MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

September 22, 1975. Arrive.
September 23. 1975. Date Paint.
September 24, 1975. Depart.


5 hours. 340 miles. But we've turned around, and are heading back east to New York.

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

Why are the Kawaras staying at the Ramada Inn? Were there no Holiday Inns in Milwaukee? Perhaps the Holiday Inns were full.

The Ramada Inn
has only recently closed down. Below, it looks like an abandoned office block.

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However, there is still a website online with many photos showing it when it was still operating as a hotel. Below is another shot of the front of the hotel when the owners were still making an effort to attract business.

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At the back of the hotel there was a swimming pool. David Hockney would have loved to have made a bigger splash here.

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Below is an interior. Two double-beds may have come as standard. Some of the other rooms look more Indian, but by and large there is a Western look about the decor.

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Here is the Date Painting that was made at the Ramada Inn.

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

Perhaps On chose the above extract from the paper because of the sentence: 'Beer can craze taps young market'. The sentence didn't make sense to me when I first read it, because I read 'can' in the sense of 'could'. So it may have come across as odder still to the Japanese eye.

Hiroko took another photo in the Kawaras' room. Making the fourth taken in different hotel rooms in 1975. I should just remind you, modern reader, that photography was a completely different ball game in these days. The four photos may have been taken on the same film of 24, and been developed at the same time. Anyway, here it is, copied from near the back of the 2002 Phaidon volume on On Kawara edited by Jonathan Watkins.

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

I'm glad I had to pick up the Phaidon catalogue in order to copy that image. On a hunch, I checked out the list of people paying tribute to On Kawara in the opening section of this book. And, sure enough, there is the following entry:

Frank Donegan:
"On always beat me at ping-pong; Hiroko is a brilliant shadow."
(No biography at the author's request.)


So that's that. Or at least it's a bare minimum about Frank Donegan. Back to the above photo taken by On's brilliant shadow. The black case is what catches my eye. It will hold On Kawara's mobile studio. Built to carry at least one Date Painting, size A or B, maps, postcards and the various stamps and ink blocks needed to fill in each postcard. It reminds me of the black case that I keep various things to do with my father's British Gypsum career, which has a metal 'British Gypsum' badge welded on to the top of it.

What's in the case? A certificate from BPB Industries thanking Dad for 25 years service to the company; business cards showing his various addresses and jobs over the years; clip-boards with 'British Gypsum' printed on them; caps with 'BRITISH GYPSUM' emblazoned on them. Oh, all sorts of memorabilia trying to sweeten the pill that my father had gladly swallowed. The pill of acceptance about being a company man. The ashtray and the diaries I store, and display, separately to the case, which really has the effect of hiding away the dross.

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Why have I used the SEPT.10,2021 picture in the above photo? Well, the actual date as I'm typing this paragraph is September 12, 2021. And if I'd spent today painting, then I wouldn't have been able to do all the research and writing that I have been doing. (Some of which was done in advance of September 10: I am not a miracle worker.)

Why have I not used a painting of September 23, 2021 in the above photo? Because I have no intention of putting the writing on hold for twelve days just for a photo opportunity. Besides, my plan is to be on holiday on the Isle of Bute by then. True, I just might organise myself to do a Date Painting on the island. After all, each picture that I've painted so far has been done at home in Blairgowrie. But, as On Kawara showed, Date Painting can be a moveable feast.

OK, let's exit the Ramada Inn. Let's explore Milwaukee in On's footsteps…


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

It looks like the Kawaras took a stroll in Mitchell Park, on the left of the circuit. But, as usual while on this trip, the day after arrival meant a visit to the principle art gallery of the city. In this case, Milwaukee Art Museum.

This had been located by Lake Michigan since the 50s, but there was a considerable extension made in 1975, designed by David Kahler, which referenced the hard-edged design of the 1957 War Memorial, but not slavishly.

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Credit: P. Richard Eells

It reminds me bit of Cleveland. Only instead of a modernist 'Lakeside Lodge' overlooking Lake Erie one has a brutalist art gallery perched over the edge of Lake Michigan. Which begs the question, what is the real context for the Date Paintings made on this trip? Is it the 'Holiday Inn' that they were painted in? Where one can assume that nearly all the other inhabitants in similar rooms were watching TV? Or is it the high art context, where in the time between painting the background of the picture and painting the white characters of the date, On Kawara would have absorbed something masterful from the history of art, for the first time and in its original form?

Oh, and in case you are wondering, there are no van Gogh paintings in the permanent collection of Milwaukee Art Museum. While my diary entry for 23 September, 1975, reads: 'Possibility of going to Cambridge to do geography seems unlikely.' What a bummer! What a double bummer! But do we despair? We do not. We road-trip to the end with the Kawaras.

Actually, that's not a fair perspective. Milwaukee was the first stop on the Kawaras' way
back to New York. It remains a possibility that On Kawara set out to see for himself the Van Goghs of the Great Lakes, involving stops at Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis, the best 'collection' to be experienced outside the Netherlands and Paris. But he had to stop in one or two other places to facilitate the overall trip.



STOP 7: CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

September 24, 1975. Arrive.
September 25. 1975. Date Paint.
September 26, 1975. Depart.

Why back to Chicago? Well, On and Hiroko were driving back to New York, so they would have had to stop for the night in at least two more places. They stopped in Chicago long enough for another Date Painting to be made. Although this was the second stop in Chicago,
Date Paintings in 89 Cities chooses to reproduce this painting and not the previous three made in Chicago, as I've already alluded to.

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


Small ads. Was On Kawara thinking of buying or selling something? I don't think I'll delve into that particular wormhole.

With the painting made, who knows, the Kawaras may just have paid a second visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. (Anyone with access to I WENT for September 25, 1975, will be able to check that out.)

Hiroko: "We've already been here."

On: "I didn't pay this picture enough attention."

Hiroko: "Which one?"

On: "This one."

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Vincent Van Gogh, The Drinkers (after Daunier), 1889

On: "It was painted at Saint Remy mental hospital. After another attack, Vincent was no longer allowed to go out into the countryside and paint. So he asked Theo to send him some drawings that he'd left with him in Paris, including a drawing of Drinkers by Daumier. And the loyal brother did as he was asked. On receiving the drawing, Vincent squared it up and painted this copy in his room at the asylum."

Hiroko: "He should have stayed at the Holiday Inn. Can we go home? I'm exhausted."

On: "Sure, my brilliant but exhausted shadow."

Instead of doing a Kasper König, I've decided to hang my copy Van Gogh in the conservatory in conjunction with my most recent Date Painting. It's a new combination and I'm not used to it yet. All those intervening textures, colours and objects… It is hardly a white cube. Or even a red cube.

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My diary is blank for September 25, 1975. And so is my mind as of 10pm this evening: September 12, 2021.



PART TWO: OCTOBER TO DECEMBER

Back in New York, the last three months of the year can be dealt with speedily. I trust.

I've seen two I WENT maps for the period. Both show that On Kawara woke up at his East 22nd Street address. That's the address noted by Kasper König as being On's address in 1974. It's the address from which he sent all 64 postcards that went to Barbara Cusack. It's the address that seems to have been used on the March postcards to John Baldessari and on the only postcard I've seen to Heinz Nigg in June. It's also the address on this postcard to Nicholas Logsdail…

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

Given that it was an important address by 1975, let's have look at it in 2021. Number 24 East 22nd Street is a hair salon at ground level, and there are about eight floors above it.

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The image below shows the ground floor more completely, as a young woman swings by.

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But is this where On painted his Dates? The table-tennis table was located in the Greene Street flat, and there were Date Paintings on the wall there, so I can't be sure, not yet.

Five Date Paintings were made in October. Eight in November, and ten in December. But something had changed. Every Date Painting had been of size A or B throughout 1973 and 1974. Suddenly, in late November, there were three made in size D, followed by three of that same bigger size in December.

Coincidentally, two of these larger paintings are now in private collections in Chicago. Did On Kawara meet a collector or two during his road trip? In February 2005, Candida Höfer took this photo of an On Kawara in the collection of Anstiss and Ronald Krueck, based in Chicago.

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

And the next day she took this photo of a similarly large On Kawara in the collection of Celia L. Marriott, also in Chicago. Of course, these paintings could have been bought long after 1975, and I will try and find out.

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

There are many reasons why On Kawara might have begun to paint larger paintings. It could have been strategic thinking. The two I MET lists reproduced in
On Kawara: SILENCE are for November 13 and December 30, and speak of meetings with dealers. Firstly, on November 13, 1975, Hiroko, Kasper, Konrad Fischer and Angela Westwater are listed. One year after the ambitious (and tremendous) show in Bern, this may have been about On Kawara being taken on by Angela Westwater's New York gallery.

But Konrad Fischer was there too. He had hosted On Kawara's only show in 1975. That took place in Dusseldorf in April. The list of works was distributed as the invite card. All were paintings that had been shown in Bern in September/October of 1974. All size B, except one sized A, as you can see from the second column.

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So it's quite possible that the dealers were interested in what On had been making in 1975, and if there was any chance that On could make some larger paintings, as not all their clients lived in poky New York flats!

Subsequent to that meeting, On would have a New York dealer in Angela Westwater, and he has had New York representation ever since.

I just wonder, what with Kasper also being in attendance, if On was able to talk about his work more intimately. Describing what it had been like to begin a Date Painting that September, to leave it once the background was finished and to seek out some masterpiece in an art museum. And to return to the painting in the evening, finishing it off with the weight of art history pressing down on his shoulders, testing his resolve or consolidating it.

Moving onto the December 30, I MET:

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

It looks like, late at night, On may have been talking to Kasper Konig and Michael Asher (an artist, already mentioned, who worked with subtle changes in space and who visited Halifax when KK was there). The next day, that is on December 30th once it had got properly going, On was with Hiroko, Tetsu Sueyoshi (unidentified), Angela Westwater and Donald Kuspit. The latter (born March 26, 1935) was/is an American art critic and a poet, known for his practice of psychoanalytic art criticism. He earned a PhD in art history from the University of Michigan in 1971 and has subsequently had much recognition. He has published many books, such as Idiosyncratic Identities: Artists at the End of the Avant-Garde (1996).

The last name on the list I haven't been able to identify. And, do you know, I'm going to leave it there. This essay has involved researching and writing for three sessions per day over the last seven days, and while I've had an unforgettable blast, I've also had enough. For now.

Oh, but one last blast. A third visit to the Chicago Institute of Art reveals that the museum now (and some 1980) owns one work by On Kawara. It is a huge painting, size H, five feet by seven-plus feet. On only ever painted eight at such a scale, beginning with the three to celebrate the first moon landing (or on getting the all clear from cancer).

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

What explains the size of this picture? That awaits my research into 1978. Which I hope to do soon enough. In the meantime, I will write about On Kawara's 1976 in October of this year. That promises to be a Berlin breeze.

Signing off right now, 12.47pm, on this day, September 13, 2021.

Oh, and thanks, Dad.





Note
Upon reading this essay, Jonathan Watkins wrote to tell me: '
On’s flat on Rue Pigalle backed onto a house where Van Gogh once stayed. He was keen to point that out to me.' The Van Gogh flat referred to is the one Vincent shared for two years with Theo on Rue Lepic while transitioning from a gloomy Dutch palette to a colourful French Impressionist one.