1966






January, 1966, New York. I know exactly where On Kawara was for most of the month, because the subtitle of one of his January Date Paintings (the one titled JAN.19, 1966) states "From 123 Chambers St. to 405 East 13th St.". He lived with Hiroko Hiraoka in her studio/apartment on Chambers Street near the southern end of Manhattan and commuted each day to his own massive loft studio on the Lower East Side. Where he painted the date. One day at a time. Beginning with this one:

syba1kclqt20025njckokm6ca_thumb_cf2f 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 huge idea. One that will take the rest of a lifetime to fully realise.

The paintings are more complex than they look. First, a coat of sienna or umber was applied to the front of the canvas and the edges. Then a second coat was added once the first coat had dried, which took up to an hour, depending on how warm it was in the studio. Why the traditional brown pigment? I presume this was a tribute to the Cave Paintings Kawara had seen when travelling in Europe a couple of years before. By his own account, the reds, browns and ochres on the cave walls had made a greater impression on his mind than any 20th Century art had. Although Kawara was painting the present day in culturally accepted symbols, he wanted there to be a formal, if invisible, link to pre-history.

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After the earthy layers, at least two coats of the final colour (red, near-black or blue) were applied. Why red, near-black and blue? Again, On Kawara never said, but if you look in any car showroom, these are the classic dark colours. Orange and purple and yellow and green are equivalent to red and blue in the spectrum, but Ford or BMW or Toyota don't tend to make cars in these colours. Suffice to say there is no such thing as an orange or purple or yellow or green Date Painting from 1966 to 2014.

Then the artist used a ruler to draw two parallel horizontal lines between which the numbers and letters were neatly drawn in pencil, with the aid of a ruler at times. Then white paint was applied to the letters, several coats of it. Occasionally, the artist would revert to the background colour, where the white had fractionally intruded over the pencilled outline. And so, hours into this simple process, perfection was approached.

And those perfect white letters? The actual, live, day of the month, implying the season of the year; and then that extraordinary list of numbers '1966'. Which stood for the years that had elapsed since a certain individual, often referred to as the son of God, may have been crucified. Nothing to do with the Buddhist religion that On Kawara had been raised in. But important to the Christian Americans who had dropped their atomic bombs on Japan during On's boyhood.

January 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 must have been a strange and exhilarating time, as On Kawara tried to get a handle on what he had done. 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 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 from a still living being.

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 (north) 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. 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 favoured white, male artists of the day. London is my city, not New York, and I caught a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern in 2012. Like On Kawara, 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 very much against the Viet-Nam war.

Yayoi Kusama 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 may not have just been Yayoi Kusama who was afraid). But the artist was back in his loft studio sufficiently by January 10 to paint a second Date Painting. Again, a small one, size A, 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.

nztdcjc002bqqo8fh0025infhymq_thumb_d021 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, in parts, 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.

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You might also observe that On Kawara's grey verged on being green at times. I don't think he liked this effect and so migrated away from grey-green as the year went on.

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. Occasionally, more to begin with, 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 from Hiroko's flat (20 minutes in the train with one change, I calculate) to buy a paper, often The New York Times, 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."


Before the end of the year, On Kawara took a set of photos of his studio hung with Date Paintings. 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 close to 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.

seuh0f2kqniytjo3rxwpcg_thumb_cfe6 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.

As you can see, On Kawara had a small studio at one end of a warehouse-sized studio space. A row of eleven Date Paintings can be seen on the wall of the room. 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, 1966:

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

JUNE 12, 1966:

“1,000 rioters in Chicago.”

MAY 24, 1966:

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

APRIL 9, 1966:

“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, 1966:

“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, 1966:

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

JUNE 14, 1966:

“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, 1966:

“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, 1966:

“President De Gaulle flew to Moscow today.”

APRIL 15, 1966:

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

APRIL 7, 1966:

“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 round 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 all-red 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 two letters. I'm not sure that makes the painting less political. From a 2022 perspective, it makes it seem anti-American rather than anti-Chinese. If he'd done an easier thing, and kept the 'RED' he could have had: 'RED THING'/'1965'/'VIET-NAM'.

Perhaps the most appropriate way to go through On Kawara's 1966 is with the aid of the set of 12 photographs, already referred to, 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. 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 Masayoshi Homma who was sent at least two 'I GOT UP' postcards in 1968/69, none of which were retained) 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.

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The first photo I've already reproduced. 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 3'.

8yvjo7fxqqi7kldcaahpng_thumb_cfe2 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 an isolated table. This is 'photo 4' 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.

uukexk97tdk2gyynjizosg_thumb_cfe5 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, 1966:

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

FEB. 23, 1966:

“The fire of Mineola Hotel.” (That was on 2nd Street, New York.)

JAN. 16, 1966:

“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, 1966:

“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.)

MAR 3, 1966:

“109 Americans were killed last week in Vietnam.”

JAN. 4, 1966:

“New York’s traffic strike.”

JAN. 18, 1966:

“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.)

MAR. 4, 1966:

“A Canadian Pacific jetliner crashed in Tokyo.”

MAR. 9, 1966:

“France and N.A.T.O.”

MAR. 1, 1966:

“Soviet spaceship lands on Venus.”

JAN. 21, 1966:

“Meeting Y.Tono at M. Ikeda’s hotel.” (This may be Yoshiaka Tono, who On sent three 'I GOT UP' postcards to in March 1969, none of which were retained.)

MAR. 2, 1966:

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

FEB. 25, 1966:

“New York City’s income tax.”

JAN. 15, 1966:

“This painting itself is January 15, 1966.” (The suggestion 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.)

My tentative conclusion is that the order of hanging is not crucial. On Kawara has hung his paintings vaguely in date order, going clockwise round the room. But he's not done this strictly, and I suspect he has done a lot of infilling. It may be that colour played a role in the order in which he hung the paintings. In later years, On Kawara would settle to the practice of requiring Dates to be hung strictly in date order and clockwise around any room or gallery. Like this:

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Note that the painting missing from this sequence (given that there was no painting made on January 17) is JAN.16, 1966. That's the one that was subtitled: "Janine came to my studio." I can't help wondering if she was given the painting, either then or later.

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 by which time size C and D paintings existed.

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 eventually. 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 O.K. found the daily commute to and from Chambers Street to be too long. So Hiroko (I presume) 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 a transition.

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 4' 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 6' in the previous diagram, that he went on making those larger images in July.

a8xyi3qatzo00251997sz0tsq_thumb_cff3 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.

The peculiar thing is that this picture isn't marked on Kawara's 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, and make his Dates bigger, as he'd been doing all year. Photo 6 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 seemed.

ume002bw002b7wrqaqsgjwal002b2ew_thumb_cfe4 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 7' 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, and has included them in his Journal. So we have this…

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And we have this….

5q002bbssuqtkobtnnb94kohw_thumb_cff5 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

In the above photo, On has settled on hanging them in date order. In the top row, there is a gap between July 10 and July 31 because the 12 paintings he made in the time were all a lot bigger. They are resting on the floor further back along the wall pictured. The subtitles for July 6 and July 10 mention Viet-Nam.

The bottom row features six pictures in chronological order. 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 seems dated from a 21st Century perspective. But I will try and keep an open mind. The test for this will come in 1969 when Apollo astronauts first walked on the moon.

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.

l99ovaioqeyersg9p3pa0a_thumb_cfe3 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 preceding April, March, March, March, March and March paintings.

That was 'photo 11'. In order to take the final photo, number 12 in my diagram, On Kawara simply swivelled round through roughly 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.

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It's an October painting which is not shown that I want to discuss. 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."

The 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.

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The above page shows that in subtitling October 2 (the 180th Date Painting of the year, size C) 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.

I've now taken us through the set of 12 photos that the artist has included in his Journal for 1966. If they were all taken on the same occasion, as I suspect they were, then that would have been post-Oct 29, 1966. I say this because there were a few more photos taken subsequently, some of them in the smaller room or office. But there was one more photo taken in the large studio space, as shown by the red line in the following diagram.

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The photo that I'm calling number 13, shows November and December Dates. This photo wasn't included in the Journal for 1966. But On Kawara chose to include it in On Kawara: Whole and Parts, the monumental tome that was published in 1993.

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The photo also gives us a glimpse into On Kawara's office, which is where we started from, and which is where we're returning to and - hopefully, dear reader - where the detailed picture you've been building up in your mind will suddenly seem to have been worth the effort.

Next is an additional photo, that was taken post-Oct. 29, I believe. If you were to open the door shown, you would see into the large studio, much as you could in 'photo 3'. You could see over to SEPT. 20,1966, the date painting that was not a Date Painting. Indeed, the column of Date Paintings shown in the new photo ends with the one that On Kawara painted immediately after SEPT. 20. 1966. Apart from that, the column shows pictures that are 8" by 16", or a little larger, being a variation on size A.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_cf2b 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. I imagine he placed JANUARY 25, 1966, on the wall first. Then he hung JANUARY 30, 1966, above it, shortly after it was made. Then FEBRUARY 7, 1966, above that. Then, having gone as far up the wall as he wanted to, placed FEBRUARY 11, 1966, below JANUARY 25, 1966. It surprises me that by the time he photographed SEPT. 25, 1966, he hadn't take the opportunity to rearrange the January and February dates into chronological order. Maybe he had got used to seeing them in that particular order.

Those JANUARY and FEBRUARY Dates would have taken a lot longer to paint, because of the number of letters, which is where all the hard work goes into. It made sense to abbreviate. On Kawara didn't want to spend the whole day Date Painting. And by this simple decision he would get a third of his painting time back.

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.

Of course, it could always be argued that by the time the above photo was taken, On Kawara was looking at 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. A diagram of the inner office space is coming up soon.

Come December, as we can see, On Kawara was running out of space in his large studio and began to add additional rows of small Date Paintings to the ones he'd already hung in his office. At least he did on the wall behind his desk that was shown in 'photo 1'.

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. I imagine this photo was taken at the same time as 'photo 13' as it adds to the story of where the December 1966 Dates were hung.

bj8ka002bfrt72rjwsm4002bga0a_thumb_cfac 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 1') 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 have been! Making a hole in the fabric of time. And preserving said hole. Day after day…

8od3trliqtwrydky2ov47g_thumb_d000 Note the seated figure, painting the date on which he remains conscious. This is just about (but not quite) as close as we'll get to a photographic portrait of On Kawara. So on that note of intimacy let me say something about On's name.

While researching this project, two full years after this particular chapter was primarily written, a Mr Hideo Mori of the M&T Kondo Foundation, directed my attention to English translations of letters written in the 1960s by Tatsuo Kondo from New York, where he was an acquaintance of On Kawara, to the editor of a Japanese art journal. In these he referred to On Kawara - twice - as 'Atsushi Kawahara'. Now I knew that On's family name had been Kawahara, but what was this 'Atsushi' business? It rang a bell in that when I'd mentioned the artist 'On Kawara' to a Japanese acquaintance, not only had he never heard of him, he didn't think 'On' was a Japanese name. Over to Hideo Mori:

'On is a very good Kanji character, meaning "gentle" or "kind," and is used in names of both genders. Japanese Kanji characters have multiple pronunciations. When used in names, there are even more pronunciations to choose from. It is pronounced On, Atsu, Atsushi, Sunao, Ttsutsumu, Naga, Narau, Nodoka, Haru, Yutaka, Yoshi, etc.

That accounts for 'Atsushi'. Hideo then included examples of Japanese people called On.

'There is Mr. On Endo, the first member of the House of Representatives in the Meiji Era (1890), and Mr. On Watanabe, a novelist born in 1902.

Finally, he told me:

'On-san, if On is not his formal name, was probably called On by his schoolmates when he was in high school, and he liked it.'

Take a seat, On-san, kind and gentle individual. Have a nap on your day-bed, even. Yet again you have registered the date on which you are still living. Give your consciousness a well-earned rest as I carry on with this opening chapter.

There are one or two more things that can usefully be said here. First, the only Date Paintings made in January that I can't find are JAN.19, 1966, and JAN. 20, 1966. The first of these is the one subtitled: 'From 123 Chambers Street to 405 East 13th Street.' I like to think that would be hanging in Hiroko and On'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 enormous 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 the cavernous space, 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.

1a4rjkfbt2qu5002bgeod0biq_thumb_cfba 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, or bulls! The sub-title is "President Johnson in Mexico City". But 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 sloping 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." 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, man?"

On: "Consciousness is indeed 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. As it is, this year I have been Date Painting two days in three, as Hiroko occasionally reminds me. Though it is not out of the question that at some future date I will come up with a 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.

Peter: "Blow his frigging 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."

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."

DEC. 21, 1966: "This afternoon Henry Geldzahler asked me in his apartment what I do every day. I said 'I don't know what I do but I know that I collect dates; that is painted canvases on which the dates are written by me'."

Interesting, that last subtitle. Clearly On Kawara could have told the art critic that he painted dates, that is painted canvases on which the dates were written by himself. But he chose to put the emphasis on the verb 'collect'. But then how could he not have given the state of his studio by December 1966!

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.

But I am not finished with the inner sanctum yet. There is an alternative crop to 'photo 4' with more information of what can be seen beyond the left edge. The point of view takes you back into the small studio and you can see that there is a large painting on the end wall (I will update the diagram shortly). And there is a further photo, probably taken as part of the post-Oct. 29 batch, but not one of the 12 included in the 'Journal', as follows. It shows that there was indeed a large Date Painting for July 18, 1966, on display in On Kawara's studio-office.

uim5mgbgqssgi7qyymv7jw_thumb_e02e Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.


The Journal tells us that this Date was size F. This makes it the largest Date Painting completed in the year, notwithstanding the enormous Date painted on 20th September but which wasn't finished on the day itself, so didn't make it into the final record, as already discussed.

Interestingly, JULY18,1966 is subtitled "Gemini 10". This was an important pre-Apollo mission, where the command module successfully secured itself to an old space vessel, and one of the astronauts performed a space walk. A few days later, On Kawara painted another 'Gemini' date, JULY 21,1966, size E, which was given the subtitle "The Gemini 10 capsule in which John Young and Mike Collins had soared to 474 miles during 70 hours splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at 5.07P.M. today before the eyes of millions of TV viewers in the U.S.A." Clearly this echoes the huge excitement On Kawara felt exactly three years later when he recorded the Apollo 11 mission in a triptych of very large (size H) canvases on JULY 16, 1969, JULY 20, 1969, and JULY 21, 1969. You will have to wait for the excitement of that very special moon party, dear reader.

But it had passed me by - until seeing the above photo - that this one size F date painting was made in 1966, and it was given prime position in On Kawara's inner sanctum. Which can be updated to look as follows.

n7xmvuh9shs9hvoqtcz88g_thumb_e030

A tale of two large Date Paintings, then. One of which, SEPT. 20, 1966, was truly enormous and which crops up in many photographs taken post-Oct.29, 1966, yet was destroyed before the year end and doesn't appear in the Journal's authoritative list of Dates. And another, JULY 18, 1966, which was given pride of place in On Kawara's studio, yet he suppressed the photo of it in his documentation of 1966, though it does appear in the Journal list as Date Painting number 132 of the year. Let that conundrum lie. Unexplained.

Now another differently cropped image found in On Kawara: Whole and Parts is the following one, a variation on 'photo 1', again with more information at its left edge than was present in the version included in Kawara's Journal:

gfqdx3obrwmcgamdj5uaxa_thumb_e02b Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York.


At the left edge is a canvas that is not a Date Painting, one that I deduce says simply: 'ART'. This is one of many canvases that were made in 1965 and which typically boasted a single word painted in the middle of a large canvas. Others were 'MOONSTONE' and 'CIPHER'. Clearly, for his 1966 Journal, On Kawara didn't want the viewer to be alerted to these earlier paintings, most of which were destroyed.

However, it suits me to suggest that all the way along the wall that On Kawara was facing when he was Date Painting, the wall that has not been revealed by any of the photos, was the 3-panel piece from 1965, Title, that On Kawara did preserve for posterity, which looks like this:

mu9cppezrxctlvdizxezda_thumb_cfbd

If you recall, that's the painting which On Kawara changed the first panel of. In other words:

RED CHINA / 1965 / VIET-NAM

became…

ONE THING / 1965 / VIET-NAM

becomes, as one looks around the painting-filled loft studio…

ONE THING / 1966 / DATE PAINTING

So there we have it. I hope this first chapter shows that rigorous research into both Atsushi Kawahara's oeuvre and his meticulous documentation reaps rewards. It uncovers insights into the unusual way he practiced art, and the extraordinary way his mind worked. There are things to be said about 'biography' that I will leave until the second chapter.

Thank-you for the days. How does that song by the Kinks, those mid-60's rivals to the Beatles, go again? On Sept. 28, 2022, I sing it for On Kawara, as Ray Davies did, poignantly:

"Thank you for the da-a-a-a-ys.
Those endless days, those sacred days, you gave me.
I'm thinking of the da-a-a-a-y-s.
I won't forget a 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. Next up, then: 1967