GAME ON (31)


SKULL OR ICE CREAM





ONE


The following postcard was my introduction to Anders Delbom.

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He'd been enjoying this website and in particular the chapter where I send postcards from Stockholm to myself back in the UK. That had been at the beginning of July, 2023. So we chatted via email for a bit.

A month after the first postcard arrived there came a second.

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This time Anders had got my name right, but I wondered what had gone wrong re the getting up time. He replied that the A.M. / P.M. stumble only showed his lack in understanding of that time concept in English. He had pulled up an On Kawara postcard from the internet to copy, and happened to stumble on a rare 'P.M.' one.

"Trying to correct my error I took a loose 'A' and printed it over the 'P', so I guess it’s the corner of that loose letter showing and becoming the floating dot."

Not sure that is an explanation for the floating dot. But I will let that drop. I have to say also that On Kawara getting up in the afternoon was not a rare thing. There were some periods, especially when playing all night mah-jong where he got up in the afternoon more often than in the morning. But Anders and I left our exchange there. The main thing I took away from it was that Anders had invested in a rubber-stamp set similar to the one that On Kawara used, similar to the one that I had bought earlier in the year.

Intriguing postcards were now coming at the rate of one per month:

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This Statue of Liberty postcard I knew well. On Kawara had sent it to Dan Graham every day for four months. That came to over 120 'I GOT UP' cards. And I too had made a copy of it through scanning both sides of a reproduction of On Kawara's original, printing them out onto photographic white card, and sticking the two prints back to back. That's not quite what Anders had done, because he'd gone to the trouble of sending the card to me rather that Dan Graham, and from his own address in 2023 rather than On Kawara's in 1970.

OK, so Anders and I had established (if there had ever been any doubt) that we were on the same wavelength. Time for me to ask him who he was and what he normally got up to? Nearly.





TWO

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I'd been to Manchester where I'd picked up the above postcard by L.S. Lowry of a man, lying on a wall, who put me in mind of On Kawara, lying on a wall, smoking. I made an 'I GOT UP' card out of it, posted it to Anders, and asked him if he would be so kind as to send me back a scan of the card, so that I could see what it looked like once it had been through the postal system of two countries: the UK and Sweden.

By October 12, 2023, I had the scans I'd asked for. Anders added the information that the small, new smudge on the first three letters of 'Blairgowie' had been made by him, accidentally, when opening a carbonated water bottle.

I wrote back, thanking Anders and asking about his own work. He replied: 'If you are curious (and use instagram), you can have a look at my current art project. Search there for "death or ice-cream" I’m letting chance decide if I paint ice-cream or a skull. I do this every day, and have done so for over a year.'

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104c5 Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

'Chance also decides what type of ice cream or what photo of a skull [one of 20 of skulls, though a much larger number of ice-creams] I paint. Maybe you will recognise the 3 colours… '

I certainly do.

'This type of project was started by me before I knew about Kawara, but he has had some influence on the development.'

I read on and realised that on one occasion in twenty, the paintings were five times bigger; and that on one time in a hundred, they were ten times bigger; and that one in four-hundred, they were twenty times bigger.

I followed this up straight away, and Anders told me that the present day, 12th October, was day number 457 into his project. He had flipped a disc and got a skull. He had thrown a dice and the painting was to be red, and he had thrown a multi-sided dice and not got one of the numbers (1 or 20) that would have meant that the painting was going to be a bigger size than usual.

I asked him to keep me updated with his progress. At 19.37 P.M. I got this:

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104c6 Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

I emailed back: 'I was expecting you to be nearly finished, but then you are not having to put down several coats of paint, each of which has to dry, in order to come up with a Date Painting… Are you pausing to eat a red Mivvy? That was made of red frozen ice on the outside, vanilla ice-cream on the inside, and I would occasionally consume one as a summer treat in the 1960s and early 70s.'

This arrived at 20.06 PM.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104c8 Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

I told Anders: 'As well as a Strawberry Mivvy, there was a yellow-coloured one. I’m trying to recall what fruit it was based on as I sip my Chardonnay that has traces of pear up front and a big mango aftertaste.'

At 20.27 PM this arrived:

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104c9 Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

And what followed was obviously the back of the finished painting. The 131 refers to the result of the disc flipping and the die rolling. It's the bottom right corner that shows the number of days Anders has been painting in this way.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104c7 Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

It was the front of the picture that I was thinking of when I wrote back: 'That red skull looks cool enough to lick."

Two days later I chose to have a flu jag. As a result, I had a slight fever and was awake and restless for hours in the night. Eventually my mind settled down to focus on two refreshing things. One: Unscrewing the cap off a bottle of fizzy water, and imagining the bubbles sprinkling my forehead and face. Two: I recalled, following obsessive refection, that the second flavour of Mivvy was pineapple. I think there were only the two colours and associated flavours, strawberry and pineapple. Which was very restrained of the manufacturers. The way the frozen, flavoured water eventually gave way to the softer, smoother, equally cold ice-cream was delicious, memorably so. Evidently. For a child, it seemed to be one of the things - one of the many things, it has to be said - that made life worth living. When I became an adult and developed a taste for alcohol, in the forms of beer and wine, I stopped eating any kind of ice-cream. One can't indulge oneself, left, right and centre and remain healthily human-shaped, a smidgen of self-control is required.

Shortly after this I asked Anders why he relied on chance to make decisions for him in his practice. He told me. 'Some days the skulls are very worked, others they are more rushed through. I live a normal working life - in a factory - but cram in my little paintings anyway, so the time is sometimes extremely limited. If I had to choose my motifs I wouldn’t have the time to paint them, and probably wouldn’t find it joyful enough to continue. I understand how me choosing the subject every day could be more interesting for a spectator, but don't forget that I picked all of the motifs before I started the project. It’s just the ”when” I don’t control.'

Which made perfect sense. I asked to see a few more skulls.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104b9 Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

Really I should have gone into instagram and taken pot luck between skull and ice-cream, but I had been locked out of Instagram since facetiously telling the company that my age was under thirteen. I must have been thinking about ice-cream when I did that. Though I was seventeen before I had my first pint in pub. Followed quickly by five more pints every Friday night for several years.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104b8 Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

In Ander's case, death or ice-cream? In my case, death or cold lager? In On Kawara's case, death or cigarette? On didn't drink, but he did smoke heavily, possibly from an early age.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104ca Reproduced with the permission of Anders Delbom.

I'd been busy revising the early chapters on this website. Going through 'I READ' for 1978 I came across a page of cuttings from the New York Times. They'd been underscored or boxed by On Kawara using red biro, marks you can just about make out in this low-res copy.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104b7 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Of course, I had to send this cutting to my artist-friend in Sweden. Conclusive proof that On Kawara knew about - and approved of - Anders project!

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Perhaps the woman in the picture was shouting: “I want my fully fleshed skull back. Oh, and where is my Strawberry Mivvy?"

I think if I studied On Kawara's ‘I WENT’ map for that day, June 30, 1978, I would be able to prove that it was On himself that blew up the Mr Softee ice-cream van. In other words, On left his work-in-progress Date Painting, blew up the ice-cream van, then returned to 140 Greene Street in a calm enough state to complete JUNE 30, 1978.

As if such a humane-thinking maestro would ever do such a thing! I'm just jesting with myself. And sharing the jest with Anders in case it makes him smile.

Yesterday, I received the following 'I GOT UP' card from a Keith Bates in Manchester. Keith is into Mail Art and typeface design and he came up with this font after studying the rubber-stampings on On Kawara's 'I GOT UP' cards. The letters have a slightly distressed and faded look which I recognise from my own perusal of hundreds of On Kawara 'I GOT UP' cards.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_104b1 Reproduced with the permission of Keith Bates.

According to Keith: 'The characters closely resemble those from Standardgraph letter stencils, based on DIN 1451 Mittelschrift Alternate.'

I should say that I received the above as an attachment at about 9 A.M. on December 1, 2023. So I think the franking of the stamp has been done by Keith Bates. I don't expect to receive the postcard by snail mail.

Keith also sent me the font in a form that I could download to my Mac. So I've made use of it in a Pages document. And I've just printed this off:

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As you can see, the postcard awaits a postage stamp and its picture side. I may be able to do something about both.

First, I have a few first-class stamps that show the young head of Queen Elizabeth, now dead. I would rather have stamps that showed the old head of King Charles, still alive. But beggars can't be choosers. If I stick two of these first-class stamps on the message side, then the postal service of the UK and Sweden may be able to calculate that that is more than enough postage to cover a postcard going all the way from the UK to Sweden.

Second, it's 20.21 P.M. I'm actually back on Instagram, thanks to having created a new email address, but I'm not sure how late Anders Delbom leaves it before he puts up his latest painting. Will today's be of a skull or an ice-cream? Time will tell. Though it may be after midnight before I find out. I recall him saying that his day did not end at midnight, as On's did, but when he went to bed, and that could be in the early hours of the morning.

While I'm waiting, let me say this. Below is a photo of On Kawara, taken from the rear, from a page in a book that came out in 2012. Just as the only other photo of him was taken from the rear in a Dallas Holiday Inn bedroom in 1974. The photos are very different. On Kawara has gone from being a sprightly forty-year-old, giving off a Peter Pan vibe, to a slightly bent-backed old man of eighty-odd.

neiqolbstrcqqsq7by7wxa_thumb_e3f8 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It is quite possible that octogenarian On was eating an ice-cream. It is somewhat more likely that he was smoking a cigarette. In any case, he might have been thinking : 'I AM STILL ALIVE'. If so, he might have been in full realisation mode that his days of continuing to say that glorious sentence were by this stage strictly numbered.

Death or ice-cream? The universe or oblivion? You have the option of the ice-cream, the potential of the universe, right up to the moment that oblivion descends for ever more. On is aware that oblivion is just around his corner. A matter of months or weeks or days away. Not years.

What could possibly cheer up On Kawara, in the meantime? What could possibly cheer up the much younger Anders Delbom, in the meantime? What could possibly cheer up 66-year-old me, in the meantime, and stay these flowing tears?

Answers on a postcard, please.



POSTSCRIPT

Next day I see that this painting has been added to the truly awesome scroll of skulls and ice-creams on the death_ or_icecream handle on Instagram. There are no less than 508 paintings up there now, this latest one being 'strawberry ice cream in a skinny cone, 2 balls, tasted, dripping'.

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To me it has the look of a portrait of the artist. In life. Quite a jaunty hat that he's wearing. Shame to cover up the King Charles parting though. Which brings to mind the first postcard that Anders kindly sent me, paying his respects to King On.