GAME ON (20)

Postcard Workshop

A year after the Date Painting workshop I'm back in Kenilworth at the invite of my old chum, John Wilson. As you can see from the first image, though dominated by a suite of Terry Frost prints, John has an excellent collection of my (after On Kawara) June Date Paintings, including Dates that correspond to John's birthday in 2021 and 2023, but not forgetting the small, black 2022 Date that was created (by me, not John, alas) at last year's workshop.


All of last years' participants are in position for today's workshop - Ron and Sheila are in the next shot, which shows Ron trying to find an address on his phone - except for Drew, who has a prior engagement. John has generously decided to send his week of postcards to Drew so that he needn't feel left out. Whose 2022 Date Painting is that which has crept into the photo? It's either Aruna's or Ron's. Not John's.


But wait. Am I going to gloss over the hour long talk I've just given? (Why Nobu Fukui only received one I GOT UP card… The best and the worst ways to display I GOT UP cards… Why On Kawara so often got up in the afternoon…On sending postcards from capital cities in South America, then from his home in New York, then from each stop on various ambitious road trips… Why 132 and 140 Greene Street, New York, are such special addresses…) A talk which has involved describing On Kawara's 'I GOT UP' process while showing an example of a postcard from each year, 1968 to 1979, ending with the antepenultimate card featuring two swans that was sent from Stockholm on September 15, 1979. Stockholm being the city I'm travelling to in a couple of days' time, once I've banged out this essay.

Well am I? It looks like it.


As well as the small, two-swan postcard, you can see from the above photo that I've gone to the trouble of pre-loading my rubber letters onto yellow plastic plates. I'm ready to stamp my getting up time, my temporary address (The Tractor Shed, Kenilworth) and send the result to myself at my home in Blairgowrie.

This gives me the opportunity to walk around the table in order to see how the others are getting on. Jill hasn't started yet because she and Ron (sitting opposite her, still checking out potential addresses) are having to share a printing set. While Aruna (sitting alongside Jill) couldn't bear to invest in a set as she'd very recently thrown away her John Bull printing outfit that had been kicking around her home for decades.


John has wise and witty words to say about such frugality and decluttering, and we all laugh.

But the laughter subsides and the concentration-consuming work gets underway. On Kawara had to do something like this every day for eleven years, on top of his other artistic commitments. I suppose that explains why he liked to send out, say, 30-100 postcards in a row to the same two people. It meant that only the date and the getting up time had to be physically updated each day. The two (times two) address stamps could remain unaltered.


Did I say concentration-consuming? Finding the right characters takes time. Fitting them into the plastic slots is an exacting task. Ron's pent-up focus is creating the sort of atmosphere that I imagine must have been present when the front page of the Daily Mirror was being put together in old Fleet Street days. Aruna has borrowed plates and letters from me and is having a go at putting together a message for her nephew. When John says he has lost an 'o' it means that it has pinged out from his black plastic tweezers and is lying somewhere unseen on the brown wooden floor, search for it though he is doing. I take the opportunity to check John's work…


All good so far.

I should say that John is determined to keep his focus this year, and not let himself down as he did at last year's Date Painting workshop. If steely-eyed concentration is what the task requires, then steely-eyed concentration is what it is going to get from the far end of the table.


I suggested that each time anyone thought they had finished a plate they should test it on a white sheet of A4 paper from the pile supplied. John seems to have felt that he could go straight to postcard with Drew's address. And when that didn't work out, he simply used the rest of the postcard for printing practice. In search of perfection…


Clearly, a perfect result is not easy to achieve. (Drew: is it OK to show your present address? If not, let me know and I'll remove this photo.) And throughout the group there is a growing respect for On Kawara's consistently fine end-result.

I suggest to the group that adopting a rocking back and forth (of the plate, not the body) technique, in both the horizontal and vertical planes (of the plate, not the body, I say again), will succeed in imparting ink evenly across the face of the plate onto the postcard.


Easier said than done. Though Sheila has already got a finished postcard (which is being sent to me) with only the stamped date showing imperfection. She has a printing set to herself and is going on to create a second card, as On Kawara did on a daily basis. Something that no-one else is attempting.

And that's subtle, the way she has used a small 'C' in my surname, taking the letter from the 4mm rather than the 5mm set. I didn't think to do that.


But let's cut to the chase. By the end of the afternoon we all have one postcard to send, and Sheila two.


I'm showing the picture side of the postcards only, as I haven't cleared with everyone that the address of their sender can be made public. Aruna is certain that her London-based nephew wouldn't like his address to be visible on the internet. Ron is sending to a former work colleague in nearby Stratford-Upon-Avon. Jill has addressed hers to her brother's wife in Surrey. And I wonder how the intense and inscrutable message will be received by the sister-in-law when it gets there, day after day. Assuming that Ron and Jill get their act together and succeed in sharing a printing set over the length of a week. Surely the sister-in-law, backed up by Jill's brother, will be on the phone after day one, asking Jill whether the postcard really is from her and what on earth it means. Sheila's second postcard goes to a woman in Bishop Stortford whom she's told in advance to expect it.

Moving on a few days, a length of time that takes me from the Midlands of England back to Perthshire in Scotland, I hear from Sheila:

Duncan, as I have just completed my 7 postcard On Kawara challenge I thought it time to finally write and thank you for a brilliant workshop afternoon. So interesting from you and for me it was good fun to make a contribution to conceptual art if in a minor way!

Sadly regarding the arrival of the various postcards the reaction from my other postee was underwhelming….”postcards have arrived thank you”….with prior knowledge of my intentions we lost something in the art form I think….hopefully you will have better responses in feedback from the others. My final card to you just posted and was my messiest one, so apologies. It wouldn’t have met the On Kawara standard but I sent it anyway…'s the thought that counts!

Thank you for sharing your artist with us and I do tell friends about this strange and mysterious Japanese gentleman.

To which I responded:

Hi Sheila, Thanks very much for this email and for the cards. So far I have received the ones you did on June 16 (workshop day!) and June 18. The post office has not franked either of them, which is slightly disappointing. Actually, the Lyme Regis one is franked but only just, with a few black lines through the stamp and nothing legible. I have also received 4 cards from myself at Kenilworth and none of those have been franked which is more than a bit disappointing as the interaction of the manual stamping and the machine franking is something I was looking forward to seeing.

One point of information that I should have made clearer on the day. The address relating to the sender should be where you got up that morning, not your normal home address. On Kawara slept often at temporary addresses and at friends' houses, so that’s why that section can give interesting info. It tells me exactly where he was on the planet.

I think I mentioned that a Tokyo University has put online the published version of I GOT UP, I MET and I WENT. This was compiled by On Kawara in 2008, nearly 30 years after the 11 years of postcards were sent out and involved him selecting one (of two) postcards each day for publication. It’s very easy to access and use. Have a dip into the world of On Kawara unmediated by me:

Looking forward to receiving the remaining cards.

Best wishes,
Duncan x

PS See below what happens when two friends share a printing commitment and one lends an ‘A’ to his best buddy - some of whose letters are scattered to the ends of the Tractor Shed - and doesn’t remember to get it back.

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Okay, what else to say? I stopped sending cards when I left Kenilworth as it seemed too solipsistic to send cards to myself from my home address. But sending that Van Gogh card woke me up as to why I had collected hundreds of these in 1990. I first saw On Kawara’s work in 1992 and the impact was enormous, echoing my original feelings for van Gogh's glorious paintings. It has taken me a long time to put the two artists together. I might start sending Van Kawaras out to various people, one or two a day, until my old postcard collection is all gone.

From Sheila: 'Kicking myself for not remembering to put my local address and making a proper effort and at Art Class last night I wished I had sent postcards to a member there…..and really I could do a seven-day surprise sending and see her reaction…..and perhaps create a more interesting outcome.'


As for me, I plan to take a couple of Van Gogh postcards to Stockholm so that the first day or so of being there I don't have to visit the Museet Moderne in order to pick up postcards that I'm assuming they've got of their Date Paintings.


I think that's it for now. I'm packing for Stockholm and getting excited about the prospect, though I've been told that it is 'near Russia'. I was going to send postcards to Hiroko at 140 Greene Street, New York, but have been advised that this would not be a good idea. And as I'm always open to well-informed advice I am going to take it. I may send Swedish cards to John at the Tractor Shed or Sheila at Wootton Grange Farm or myself at home. We'll see.

Oh, and I won't be doing any Date Painting in Stockholm because my own Hiroko wouldn't like it. Though the idea of painting JULY 3, 2023 in the format 3 JULI, 2023 is something that would have given me great pleasure. There are few things more important to me that giving myself pleasure, but these things do present themselves, on occasion.

Yours, dear and gentle reader, in haste.