1967








ONE


On Kawara got rid of his spacious studio at 405 East 13th Street in February 1967, having just a few months before persuaded Hiroko Hiraoka to move her studio and their apartment from Chambers Street to 340 East 13th Street. It seems the ideal work/life balance was still a work-in-progress.

But the work came first, so let's think that through. On Kawara's own end-of-'66 assessment may have concluded that he only needed a relatively small space for his painting and making processes, but a large space for storing his output. He had made 241 Date Paintings in 1966, and he intended to carry on producing in numbers along these lines, at least for five years. Where was he going to put them all?

Mounting the paintings on studio walls wouldn't have seemed like a long term solution. In fact, by December 1966, he'd run out of wall space, doubling up on the rows, at least in his office. Though it's true to say that there was so much wall space in the warehouse part of the studio, that On Kawara could have come up with a scheme that would have kept him there for a few years. Though it would have involved a lot of walking up and down a ladder.

Perhaps he was drawn to making boxes for the pictures, and to storing these boxes on shelves. For that he would need much less space.

I suspect he began hand-making the boxes (Lynne Tillman suggests On Kawara made the boxes himself in her essay 'On Kawara, Art of His Time') at the start of February, 1967. FEB.3 1967 is the first Date Painting to have a cutting from a newspaper included in the box alongside the Date Painting itself. Obviously, the artist wouldn't have done this retrospectively. Since October 1966 he'd been keeping an 'I READ' file, but it's unlikely that he would have kept the rest of the paper. In any case, the whole point was that the Date Painting was completed on the day. You didn't keep going back to the Date Painting and fiddle around with it. Well, On Kawara did go back and make boxes for his earlier Date Paintings, beginning with 4 Jan, 1966. Here it is on display at the Guggenheim in 2015.

k86ewxttsqaevdnxembfjq_thumb_d03f Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

And here is the empty box that goes with a painting from the middle of that first year. As reproduced in Date Paintings in 89 Cities, the catalogue for a show that toured from 1991 to 1993.

y0025owua002bvsrugonlrmpdqtg_thumb_d04d Reproduced from On Kawara: Date Paintings in 89 Cities with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders.

Below is the only photo I can trace of a 1967 date painting showing its box and the trimmed front page of a daily newspaper. This is a size B picture. The fact that the paper does not neatly fit into the size of the box (it nearly does, but some of the first column has had to be trimmed off) suggests to my mind that the boxed newspaper aspect of Date Paintings had not been thought through from the outset.

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Though I can see why On Kawara included the newspaper cuttings once he had established the boxes. In an essay called 'Intersecting Parallels' that appears in On Kawara 1976 Berlin 1986, Wolfgang Max Faust quotes On Kawara as having said to him in 1986: "Europeans can't really understand the Japanese. For them 'one' is the basis for thinking. For the Japanese 'complements' permeate all thought."

In this case, hand-painted complements machine-printed. Common newsprint complements archival materials. News of the outside world complements the inner world of one idiosyncratic man.


JANUARY/FEBRUARY

But back to the beginning of 1967. The plan may have been for On Kawara to have lived and worked in the much smaller studio/apartment at 340 East 13th Street. However, the subtitles of the Date Paintings suggest that the situation was more complex, and that On Kawara was given other options.

He painted 20 Dates in January. Maybe he was making the first boxes then as well, after all he had time on his hands while the paint dried. On Feb 4 the subtitle reads: "C. Oldenburg and J, Klein came to my studio this afternoon. In the evening I went to Oldenburg's studio to ask him if I could use my asking him as the title of this painting." That suggests the subtle way that On Kawara was going about things. Networking mindfully, one could say.

The subtitle for the painting reproduced below is "Da Vinci's manuscripts which were produced between 1491 and 1505." Why did On Kawara choose this from his reading of that day's paper?

wluxg002bbtsqcxnwx002bd01oag_thumb_d095 On Kawara, FEB. 14, 1967, 1967. Dia Art Foundation; Gift of Lannan Foundation. © One Million Years Foundation. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

Perhaps because the long consideration of the numerals 1,4,1 and 9 while painting the picture, caused the 1491 date to lodge in his mind. Which may have led to other thoughts. Was On Kawara going to produce Date Paintings for 15 years? Which would take him to the year 1981, by which time he might have 15 x 200 = 3000 paintings to store. Around the Date Paintings, this kind of speculative conjecture is all too easy, and I shouldn't give it too much emphasis.

Although the subtitle of APRIL 27, 1967 reads "Today I met John Chamberlain. He took my studio last February," I like to think On Kawara was still in his big studio on February the 4th, when Oldenburg and Klein came round. I think it would have helped On Kawara professionally for his fellow artists to see what he was doing and to be blown away by it.

Indeed. I will just say at this point what a magnificent thing that first, large studio was. The sight of all the Date Paintings from January to December, 1966, displayed around the space would have had an enormous impact on anyone who saw it. Those of a certain sensibility, anyway. On Kawara was going to go on to produce some amazing spaces, often with the collaboration of curators and gallery owners. But never again one of such raw splendour, when all was sudden realisation and endless potential.

MARCH/APRIL

Clearly On Kawara was out of that studio by the end of February, 1967. On March 17, this subtitle, drawn from an official document, gives biographical information about On Kawara. "Remarks: Mr. On Kawara is on a one-half scholarship continuing this year's study which began September 28, 1966 and ends May 31, 1967. This continuation scholarship is until this date May 31,1967. (For full-time study five afternoons a week.)" On Kawara was studying at Brooklyn School of Art, but clearly he was working in his studio, so it seems unlikely that he was at Brooklyn every weekday afternoon.

It was on March 9 that a subtitle announces: "Peter, Reeva, Kasper and Barbara came to my apartment just before midnight." (He means the apartment that he shared with Hiroko Hiraoka.) Peter and Reeva were two of the guests that had visited On Kawara in his massive studio the previous summer and had a 'hot discussion about art' with him. This time they were joined by Kasper König, art dealer, and his partner, Barbara Brown, photographer.

Kasper König became a lifelong friend of On Kawara, and he appears in videos to promote the Guggenheim show of 2015. He was born in 1944, was nearly 10 years younger than On Kawara, and was clearly a sharp operator, being thought of as a sort of 'James Bond of the art world' by Barbara Brown. He was living in New York, representing both private and public European galleries. According to art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, when Kasper König decided that an artist was crucial, he moved heaven and earth to back him up. Claes Oldenburg later got a solo show at the Modern Museum of Art in Stockholm via König's support. Kawara would do well from the liaison too. Indeed, in 1989 König curated a show, Again and Against, juxtaposing Date Paintings from 1966 to 1988 against works by twenty-four other ground-breaking artists of the time. That show is archived online and the painting promoting it is the one below, made just two days after the meeting involving On Kawara, Kasper König and Barbara Brown referred to in the subtitle of MAR.9,1967.

wnxteg4fsqcoi5bljwmjkq_thumb_d07b Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Actually, it's worth reproducing how the page looks on my screen in 2021. Because - you must understand - the event happened long ago!

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In the Tribute section of the Phaidon monograph on On Kawara, edited by Jonathan Watkins, Barbara Brown tells us that for several years she and Kasper stored On Kawara's work in the loft they shared on East Broadway. Well, I expect that such an arrangement began in 1967 and that was when MAR.11,1967 came into Kasper König's possession. As we'll see, it may well have been a gift.

Of course, there is a counter to that argument. Why did On Kawara not gift MAR.9,1967? Perhaps he did. The fact is, although it may not seem that way, there are images available of only a small fraction of the Date Paintings. Certain ones circulate around the world, via galleries and the internet. Others hang on the walls of exclusive, private houses. Shining in the dark, one might say. But no - never shining in the dark - surely the Los Angeles photo that is coming up proves that. Interestingly, in Phaidon's On Kawara, Barbara Brown states that she first met O.K. a month later, on April 22, 1967. That's a specific date, and I'd like to know the reason she chose it. But one can't trust that date against an On Kawara date, that would be foolish. What Barbara Brown also tells us, is that On Kawara was a master of board games: Japanese chess, mah jongg and Go. Apparently it was On Kawara's philosophy that one should take an interest in something that complemented one's profession. In fact, Barbara suggests that game-playing was On Kawara'a true profession, and painting simply something that he loved to do. Maybe that's what On Kawara said to her on April 22, 1967, and it stuck in her mind, date and all.

2pho002be10025rk21it0025czawgeq_thumb_d082 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

A quick internet search tells me that this painting, whose subtitle is "Saturday" was sold at Bonham's in 2007. The sales information tells us that instead of the box being lined with a section of a page from a New York newspaper, it's lined with a collage made from clippings of cinema and theatre listings. Bonham's sales notes also refer to a photo, taken in Los Angeles, that appears on the inside back cover of the On Kawara continuity/discontinuity catalogue of 1980. Sure enough:

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I am going to give this West Coast kid the benefit of the doubt and suggest he is staring at the Date Painting rather than the TV. The television looks so dated; the On Kawara painting looks so Today.

Before we leave April, let me mention APR.12,1967. The Date Painting's subtitle reads: "Rudolf Zwirner, Kasper König and I were in my apartment this afternoon from 1.00 to 2.30p.m." A hot discussion about business? Rudolf Zwirner opened a gallery in Cologne in 1963 and would go on to organise the world's first Art Fair in Cologne in 1967. His son, David Zwirner, is the New York gallerist who I'm acknowledging in the captions of the On Kawara reproductions. In other words David Zwirner became On Kawara's New York gallerist. That all started back in spring 1967, through the mediation of Kasper König .

MAY/JUNE

May 12, 1967. Subtitle: "Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin and Kasper König." Kropotkin was a Russian social theorist, against capitalism and for co-operation, who lived from 1842 until 1921. A hot discussion about politics, then?

Artists Sol Lewitt and Dan Graham were also mentioned in May as having been met that month. Though, of course, On Kawara's subtitles continued to be dominated by the state of the world. References to Viet Nam and China, to conflict everywhere. But not just hard news, trivia also; the affairs of film stars and the results of sports events. Oh, and mankind's continuing exploration of space.

Plus the odd personal reference. On May 21, just before the mention of Sol Lewitt on May 22 and Dan Graham on May 23, the subtitle reads: "Two or three men knocked on the door of my apartment tonight. Without opening the door I asked 'What's wrong with you? One of them said, 'it's all right if you are there'."

So what was going on? Perhaps it was Rudolf Zwirner and Kasper König checking up on their latest discovery. Perhaps it was officials from Brooklyn Art College checking up that their Japanese student was still in town. Perhaps it was Sol Lewitt and Dan Graham registering their fascination with On prior to subsequent meetings.

On June 10, the subtitle reads: "Tonight Bob and Sally Manness and I saw Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren in 'A Countess from Hong Kong' at Loew's Sheridan Theatre in New York." I mention this, partly because I have a reproduction of it…

0025rowhdzgqc002bhjd8hrwzgpg_thumb_d079 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

but also because the Date Painting was given to this Bob and Sally Manness, though not until December 30, 1967. Below is the label that On Kawara typed and affixed to the inside of the bottom edge of the stretcher, as was his habit.

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There is more to be said about this painting, but I'll wait until the December section of this essay to elaborate.

JULY/AUGUST/SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER

During July, all five of the Date Paintings from July 13 to July 17 are subtitled simply "Newark." This is explained by the fact that the Newark riots were happening in the city that bordered New York, the subtitle of July 12 quoting a newspaper report: "Negro taxi driver John W Smith was stopped by 2 patrolmen at 9.45 tonight in Newark." On the one hand, understated. On the other - five paintings over five days - a meditation on, and commitment to, enlightened race relations.

On Kawara reported that he had a dull pain in his eyes as the subtitle immediately preceding these pictures, on July 10, and he did not do any Date Painting for 16 days. Perhaps he caught up with his box-making. Then on August 6, he got to his painting again, though the subtitle again reports: "I have pain in my eyes." This time the artist rests for 14 days before getting back to the fine brush and the razor blade. This must have been a worrying time for the artist. He needed his sight if he was going to achieve what he could visualise internally. Sept.16, 1967: "I still have a pain in my eyes." Another ten days off. Did that do the trick?

Perhaps it did. When he resumed Date Painting on September 27, it was to do a size 'A' Date. He then painted a size A Date every day (except Oct.14, 19 and 21) until the end of October. That's 31 size 'A' paintings on the trot. Perhaps he felt that it was painting larger canvases that had been straining his eyes. Anyway, he doesn't mention his eyes again, not in 1967.

On October 12, the subtitle reads: "Dan Graham brought Joseph Kosuth to my apartment this afternoon." Both were major artists of the day. Their names will crop up again in years to come, the first as a valued friend, the second more ambiguously.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER

In November, On Kawara took this picture of the studio/apartment he shared with Hiroko Hiraoka. Of course, the photo may have been taken any time after November 6, 1967, but if so I believe On Kawara would have shown us a more up-to-date painting than the one pictured. Contrast the order of the room with the set of photos taken in On Kawara's huge studio at the end of 1966.

hyqhwiohsg65xsm4cbadjw_thumb_d04e Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, On Kawara Studio and David Zwirner, New York/London.

There are about two-hundred boxes shown, covering sizes A to D. The painting on display, NOV.6,1967 is a size 'B' painting. I expect that the specially made bookcase doesn't extend much further to the left, because, if so, On Kawara could have afforded to shift his viewfinder to the left without cutting out any of the shelving on the right-hand side.


The main principle of organisation of the paintings would seem to be size. Which means that the Dates can't be shelved in date order. Though I expect that was the second organising principle.

So where were the other Date Paintings to be found? There were over 400 by this time. I expect they were with Kasper König and Barbara Brown at 65 East Broadway, which is also on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

It might look like a backward step, the neat set of shelved cardboard boxes compared with the awesome display of 1966 Date Paintings around the loft studio on East 13th Street. But On Kawara had bigger fish to fry than that studio loft. In his sights were white cubes and national galleries all around the world. It was just a matter of being patient.

I've been told that the artist's plan was not to sell any of the Today series paintings for at least five years, because this could make it more difficult to show them together. However, to give paintings to friends or family was another matter. Such gifts could always be lent back for exhibition purposes. This suggests a nature that was not too precious, indeed generous.

Let me revert to the June 10, 1967 Date that was given to On's friends Bob and Sally on December 30, 1967. The back of the actual painting (signed in Japanese as was the typed label) gives clues as to how the background of the painting was built up, with a layer of red as well as near-black.


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The red colour could have been raw sienna, but it seems redder. In any case, there is a Cave Painting of a bull which is almost as red. So that's not inconsistent with On giving his Dates an initial layer of paint that refers to 30,000 years earlier than the date being recorded.

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The colour of the initial coat can be seen in examples of Dates painted and photographed in the early 1990s. On January 23, 1991, burnt umber is visible on the back of the canvas. On June 9, 1991, photos of the front of the canvas at an early stage in the day's painting suggest raw umber or burnt umber, something like the darker outlines of the above bull. While on 6 August 1992, it would seem to have been a lighter, redder colour that was used, possibly raw sienna.





TWO

1967 was a year of consolidation for On Kawara. It was the year of the cardboard box. It was a relatively modest year, between two years of huge ideas that would have enormous impact on the art world and this individual biographer. Roll on, 1968, where On Kawara would take his art practice to another place (have Date Painting will travel) and come up with big ideas two, three and four.

But before we get stuck into that, let me say something about the nature of this investigation. To some extent, it is a biography that I am writing. After all, that's what I do, I write biographies of what I understand to be exceptionally creative individuals from the literary or visual arts (John Ruskin, Enid Blyton, Evelyn Waugh, George Shaw). The easiest way to write about On Kawara would be to ask Kasper König a lot of questions about what happened in the 1960s and 70s. In particular to ask him what was On Kawara's intentions and his habits. Well, I tried to do that last year (2021) while drafting the first version of this work (the first draft covers 1966 to the end of On's life in 2014; this second draft concentrates on his glory years: 1966-1979). Those emails were not answered, though Kasper König has a contact page on his website, is still active in the art world, and I suspect my communications would have reached him.

I know for sure that my enquiries directed at The Million Years Foundation, On Kawara's Estate, did get through. Jonathan Watkins, who has written authoritatively about On Kawara for several catalogues, and worked with him on many occasions from 2001 to 2010 or so, volunteered to be the go-between. So I wrote to OMY via Jonathan, who forwarded me this response from someone at One Million Years Foundation:

'I read Duncan’s blog entries and enjoyed his approach to unfold On’s unknowns while coming up with interesting hypotheses. That brings me to question whether that quality would be lost if he is directly connected to us and we were to answer every question. After all, it is still very early in the game… I hope that he understands that we are not trying to be discouraging, but merely interested to see where this is going.'

The 'we' referred to is, I suspect, On's surviving family, being Hiroko, their son, daughter and son-in-law.

The immediately good thing about the OMY response was that it effectively gave me permission to use reproductions of On Kawara's work on my website. Or at least that's what I took it to mean. A permission which has been fundamental to the work I've been making.

Time passes. I have had eighteen months or so to think about the only communication I have received from One Million Years Foundation. I have concluded that what they said above makes a lot of sense. On Kawara did not allow photographs of himself to appear in public. He made no official statements about his art over and above the subtitles of his Date Paintings. He gave no interviews about his art practice or his life. As you'll see, he went on to make profoundly autobiographical work from 1968 to 1979, but in doing so he was balancing a preference for privacy with a compulsion to examine his own life, his daily existence, his being.

I came to understand that the only biography of On Kawara that can be written is one that builds from the autobiography and the art. Anything else would be working against On Kawara's own intentions, and I don't want to do that. Indeed, even if I wanted to do such a thing, the information - from Hiroko, Kasper and others - is unlikely to be made available.





THREE


Today is February 1, 2023, and I must add a new layer to this chapter. I've just enjoyed a correspondence with Nobu Fukui, one of On Kawara's closest Japanese friends in the years from 1965 up until 1979, though his name doesn't crop up in any Journal entries, unlike Hiroko, Kasper, Dan Graham and Joseph Kosuth, amongst others. Nobu Fukui claims that in 1967, and possibly from the outset of Date Painting in 1966, On used plastic templates while making his Date Paintings. This came as news to me. I believe it comes as news to art history.

Nobu told me that playing mah-jongg was an important part of the Japanese-New York lifestyle, On being 'by far the best player' and Hiroko also being 'excellent' at the game, Nobu added: 'We started in the early evening, and On normally brought a painted canvas with the date pencilled out, all he had to do was to paint. Sometimes he came with a blank canvas, painted the canvas and played the game while the paint was getting dry. He used a set of plastic templates to draw dates with pencil. I didn't know, but I learned later that somehow he kept this a secret. Apparently he wanted the public to believe he was drawing freehand.'

The email also dealt with one or two other questions, which I'll come back to. Nobu concluded: 'I'll try my best to be as accurate as possible, but obviously my memories are not perfect. So before you go public with my info you should try to verify them if you can.'

I replied straight away: 'Of course, the big shock in your email was the information that On Kawara used plastic templates. As you suggest, I won’t just accept this as true, but I will test it out as a hypothesis. On would have needed eight different sizes of templates, for his A to H Dates. And the ‘font' changed over time, so it should be apparent when he changed from one plastic template to another. I think if I was to look closely at his size A canvases and his size B canvases, for a few sample years, I might be able to tell whether templates were being used or not. If there is a slow transition from one ‘font' to another (in so far as they were different fonts) then I should spot that.

I wonder how much difference it makes. It's known that he used a ruler, so is there that much difference between a ruler and a template/stencil? And he didn’t make statements about his technical practice.

I think if he was trying to deceive the public, then that would come out in other aspects of his practice. I haven’t come across any such deceptions. Everything hangs together and consolidates the authenticity of the work.

I think it would make the whole Date Painting process a bit quicker, but what would make it a lot quicker is if he used the stencils again when painting. That’s where tiny mistakes are likely to happen if you don’t have a hard edge to control the movement of the brush. So that is also what I must look out for.

I can already see that in a photo taken of MAR.30,1997, when the pencilled figures were in the process of being infilled, the white paint has gone over the line at the bottom of the A. That wouldn’t have happened if he’d been using a stencil.'


Nobu then responded, again straight away: 'About the template, I saw different sizes of them neatly stored in a shallow cardboard box. I never saw him using stencils when he was painting. He used a fine sable brush to paint dates with white acrylic paint freehand.'

That is an important distinction. I had been thinking of the words template and stencil as synonymous. Not so. A template is a physical object that one can draw around. A stencil is a plastic sheet with shaped holes cut into it that one can paint within. In On's case a template was used to standardise the pencil work, not a stencil to control the brush work.

In a separate email, Nobu added: 'Thinking of On's paintings and templates last night, suddenly I remembered that on June 2, 1967, my 25th birthday, I borrowed On's templates and painted the date on an orange background, upside down and backwards. It was painted on a 24 x 36 inches canvas I made myself. I couldn't have done it without his templates. I went back to Japan later that year, and stayed there for about a year. I was living alone in the same building as Soroku Toyoshima and his wife lived, 61 Lispenard St. then. It was a small loft building, and I occupied the top two floors above their floor. Soroku agreed to keep my paintings till I came back. When I was moving my paintings downstairs, On and Hiroko stopped by and offered to keep my birthday painting for me till I came back. That was the last time I saw the painting, On never gave it back to me, and I never asked for it. I assume that the painting was destroyed. I'll ask Hiroko about it if and when I see her next time.'

It seems to me that this email was full of extraordinary information and that it would take me a while to assimilate it all. Nevertheless, I replied swiftly:

Dear Nobu,

Great idea to paint your own Date on an orange backdrop, upside down and backwards! As you say, you wouldn’t have been able to do it without the templates. Or at least it would have taken you all day, some birthday present to yourself!

I hope that painting wasn’t destroyed and that you get it back from Hiroko. One Million Years Foundation (wherever that is) must have a loft full of On's secrets and valuables. For a start, there is the log book that On kept to record who got postcards and where they were sent to. And I expect that there is a set of templates in a shallow cardboard box.

Yesterday, before I got your latest email, I had a close look at the little book that records in a series of 30 photos the making of JUNE 9, 1991. A pencil, ruler and plastic triangle are in the key shots. No templates, because I don’t think they were used in the sketching of this particular date.

I also have images of 27 October 1990, which was made in some studio On had access to in Rome (see below). He hasn’t taken much trouble with the sketch. The 'O' in October isn't symmetrical and the circle of the first 9 has got a lot of unnecessary extra pencil work as if On had been correcting himself.

All this tells me is that he doesn’t seem to have used templates on these recorded occasions from the 1990s. Obviously he did use templates some of the time, as you’ve told me he did and I believe you.

I suppose it’s his rules. As we know, he did take these rules very seriously, otherwise the work meant nothing. But that he drew the characters 'freehand', with the help of just a ruler and set square, was not a rule as such as far as he was concerned.

So that was my first reaction to the news from Nobu Fukui that On Kawara used a template to produce his Date Paintings. Obviously I was not going to leave it there. Obviously, I was going to recreate Nobu's one-and-only Date Painting at some stage, just for starters:

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I wonder if this creation can be read as an undermining of On Kawara's practice. Orange is a colour that On never used. But for no good reason, Nobu might be suggesting. And the registering of time with arbitrary marks, is that not what Nobu's upside down and back-to-front letters and numbers are suggesting - the arbitrariness of it all?

I wonder if Nobu had permission to borrow On's templates. If he didn't, then perhaps On felt entitled to confiscate Nobu Fukui's Date. After all, it was an ambitious enterprise he was involved in, which was just getting underway. On understood his own rules and his own process. He didn't want the public to jump to false conclusions, and he may have felt that Nobu's Date Painting was liable to encourage exactly that. So JUNE 2,1977 was put away, never to be seen again.

On Kawara's 'Journal' for June, 1967, shows that he made B-size paintings on June 1 and June 4. Nothing on June 2. But here's the thing: by June 2, On Kawara had template plastic letters of various sizes. To what extent is it possible to work out exactly when he used them to draw his letters? I must take a close look at On Kawara's Date Paintings from January 1966 to June 1967.

All the way back to the beginning of 1966. Can you stand it, dear reader? Can I even do it? Luckily, there is a book called ON KAWARA: 1966 which is well-illustrated. It was published in 2015, the years after On Kawara's death. But I suspect it was prepared in parallel with the ON KAWARA: SILENCE exhibition, and On was involved in the conception of both. Mind you, I don't think On Kawara, nearing the end of his life, had decided to give away any more of his secrets. But I suspect that all the information about his process is out there in the public realm, however much hidden and coded.

Actually, I'm not going to do that analysis of the 1966 paintings, not here. There is a separate chapter in the 'GAME ON' section of this site which shows to my satisfaction that On Kawara did not use templates while making his Dates in 1966. Instead, the style of letters that he favoured evolved quickly, and then continued to evolve slowly. But the small systematic differences in certain letters mean that I have concluded he was not using templates.

What about 1967? There is no equivalent to On Kawara: 1966 focussing on 1967, so I've just had to go through all my books and the web, sourcing and reproducing what Dates I could.

I've a feeling this is indeed when On commissioned a set of templates to be made. Either in January (I haven't seen a single January canvas, though he painted twenty) or February. As I said earlier, it was in February of 1967 that On began to make cardboard boxes for the Date Paintings, and to have a cutting from the day's newspaper put in the box with the Date Painting.

It's possible that reviewing the whole year's work in his studio, he realised that his style of making letters and numbers had evolved, but that he was happy with where it had evolved to. I have got 6 size 'B' paintings from 1967 that I am going to check. Though not this one, which is not shown sufficiently square-on.

rbxeyararnylbxlcpeithw_thumb_ea83 Tomas Laddaga viewing the Kawara installation, Dia: Beacon, New York, 2009.

Then three size C paintings that I'm going to check. Then one size D painting. As it happens, there are no reproductions that I can source of size A paintings. On did make size A paintings in 1967, including one on September 27, 1967. Another of the best birthday presents I never had. I asked Nobu Fukui if On sent him any I GOT UP Postcards (I'll explain about these in the next chapter) or gave him any Date Paintings. This is what he told me:

'On sent me one postcard. I framed and showed it to him. Somehow he didn't like how it was framed, and never sent me another one. He gave me a DATE painting, but when Miyuki and I were separated, she took it and the postcard along with my whole art collection; prints by Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella etc., and went back to Japan. I believe Miyuki sold everything to an art dealer in Japan.'

Nobu tells his story in a matter of fact way, but I sense there is much going on beneath the surface that is not being said.

But back to 1967 and the 6 size B, 3 size C and 1 size D Date Painting that are in my gift to analyse:

liw8ezfjrrcdozsa6y00255zg_thumb_ea86.dgw1pgflti002bjvdkskazi1q_thumb_ea84 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.
r002bbzogmlsqizuk6ahbhfgw_thumb_ea93.unadjustednonraw_thumb_ea90 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.
6r7r4jmqruqv0rzbkav8uw_thumb_ea8d.ldbvkwbwrxeuguo0002bc1qsq_thumb_ea8b Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


I think that is a result. 1967: year of the cardboard box and year of the template! The ends of the 9 and the 6 are the things I've been scrutinising. The circle part of both numbers was gradually increasing in size through the second half of 1966. But in 1967 the circles remain the same large size, and the ends of the 6 and the 9 remain the same small size. Why? Because On Kawara was drawing them with templates. Perhaps even the same template that he simply turned around to get from 9 to 6.

Anyway, let's not be hasty. Size C Dates:

joyja1avshcj9zhkvjyb2q_thumb_ea85.unadjustednonraw_thumb_ea91 dmyd4rndt8afgavdmns50025g_thumb_ea88
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


As I say, 1967, year of the template. That information is just beginning to sink in. And finally, size D:

unadjustednonraw_thumb_ea92-2
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


I can't see any differences between any letters or numbers in any of these nine dates. And in any case, Nobu Fukui told me that he borrowed On's template to make his birthday Date, size E, on JUNE 2, 1967. So the presumption must be that On Kawara did use a template at this time. I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction that he didn't use templates in 1966, or at certain other times.

I can guess that On went on using the template until he left for Mexico on MAR.31, 1968. But after that - when he confined himself to size A and B Dates, which would have been easier to get standardised without the aid of a template - we'll have to see.

Are you ready for 1968? Total immersion in Mexico City and On Kawara's stunning new ideas awaits.