Being the fifth of the five years that On Kawara had set aside for the essential phase of Date Painting, in which no work would be sold, the artist had resolved to produce a Date Painting every day for as long as he could. He was going to stick to size B paintings, giving each a near-black background. He got off to a steady start, whether or not he was using templates.

yltrvpxdreozz9s6gjdvfw_thumb_d21ehwbpqc0hsmwnntpmyhyy6w_thumb_d221 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The subtitles were taken from his reading of the New York press, as they would be throughout this phase of the project, which was to last until March 31. The subtitle for JAN.1 concerns a Cuban gunboat firing warning shots at a Liberian cargo ship, while JAN. 2 reports the death of the second heart-and-double-lung transplant patient at the age of 43. The prevalence of war and the progress of science, respectively.

JAN. 3 through JAN. 9. Below is how they are presented in a double-page spread in the On Kawara: SILENCE catalogue, published by the Guggenheim, New York in 2015.

uizf00253vrtyqtdo2nttvzpw_thumb_d229 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

The subtitles concern, from left to right, a tropical hornbill netted in New York; an 89-year-old Peruvian soldier marrying a 37-year-old woman; information that if the moon came from the earth then it did so during the earth's formation or immediately afterwards; simply the day, 'Tuesday'; the observation that a candy-stripe pattern is to be found in some lunar rocks; and the US and China agreeing to resume formal ambassadorial meetings. Quite upbeat really. Not as dominated by war as some batches of subtitles.

One has to bear in mind that 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' would have been produced each day as well. But On Kawara was well into the rhythm of this workload, having been doing it for nearly two years. I'm intending to reproduce each of the DPs made from January 1 until March 31, just to emphasise what kind of commitment was involved here. As a mark of respect, you might say.

3yug0tzitlkttftyde1p0025a_thumb_d22a Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

JAN 9: France sells 50 Mirage jet fighters to Libya.

JAN 9: Diamond sales hit a record $691 million in 1969.

One cannot forget the pervasive importance of money. It drives so much human activity.

The subtitle of JAN. 10 catches the eye. It is in verse and, although On Kawara does not flag this up, a little Google research reveals that the first verse was written by Thai guerrillas to the Thai police, and the second and third verses (the subtitle is all three verses) constitute the reply from the police to the guerrillas. Perhaps On Kawara was thinking of it in a Viet Nam context:

'When you come, we dive underground.
When you stop, we harass.
When you are in bad shape, we attack.
When you run, we chase.'

The reply:

'When you dive, we dig you up and expose you.
When you are in bad shape, we pounce on and pulverize you. When you attack, we fight back.
When you chase, we turn and bore into you.
Because you are debased and fickle, and you
Lure the people with your wiles."

JAN.11, is a report on the Super Bowl game between Kansas Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.

Then come two subtitles concerning West and East Africa.

JAN. 12: "Biafra with its last defences crumbling and its supplies of food and ammunition exhausted, capitulated today to the Nigerian government."

JAN.13: "Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia today ordered the transfer of $20,000 to the Nigerian Government to help victims of the civil war and appealed to the world community to rush food and medical supplies to starving civilians."

The real cost of war is death.

This might be an appropriate time to see how On Kawara's technique was holding up to his demanding schedule. When the two paintings are placed over one another, and the opening 'J' is lined up as well as possible…


It can be seen that the 'J's do line up. They are the exact same size and similarly placed in the composition. As the eye moves to the right along the letters and numbers, some small differences can be observed. For instance, the 'A' of JAN. 12 is wider than the 'A' of JAN.13, pushing things slightly off for the rest of the row. Abandoning that and lining up the '1' of '12' and '13' as best one can…


…the concordance is really very close, with only a slight difference observable with the 'J'. If he wasn't using templates, one wonders how many measurements On Kawara was marking on each canvas before painting his letters. He would have drawn parallel lines marking the top and the bottom of the row of letters and numbers. Then he would have made a number of marks to indicate exactly where each number/letter should start and finish. And then he must have done a whole lot of minute checks and balances so that he was satisfied with the end result. His Date Painting passes the unaided human eye test. But did it help with the problem in Nigeria? Well, it prevented On Kawara from thinking about it too much. It helped get it into some kind of perspective. War and killing goes on regardless of the work of monks, scholars and artists.

And so the monastic days passed…

wudtmhyqt4qjqivpixaira_thumb_d22b Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

Subtitles, from left to right: a Soviet Union census is in progress; an Israeli archaeological discovery; the Tago-Sato-Kosaka comet; the New York poor waiting in vain for a millionaire to give away dollars; an incident at Cairo airport involving Israeli planes; a San Diego woman travels to Mexico to save money on her shopping. One might think that On Kawara was alone in his studio, concentrating hard on perfecting his own self-appointed task, but, through his reading and visualising, he was open to everything that was happening all round the globe. The grain of sand at the centre of the universe. Jan.17 calls out to Jan.19 as the poor find novel ways of grubbing for that precious commodity called dollar.

It was on January 20, 1970, that the artist sent his first 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram, following the three preliminary telegrams that went off in December, 1969. The SILENCE catalogue tells us that the telegram itself is deceptive as it records the time of delivery, not of its posting. Dorothy and Herbert Vogel were unusual art collectors (both had normal jobs) who lived in New York. They had been sent 'I GOT UP' cards from the start, the earliest one in the Michelle Didier volume being June 21, 1968, though that card was a reconstruction, suggesting the original hadn't been retained, or hadn't been made available for reproduction.

aczs4jpbss002bxdmgyaubetg_thumb_d227 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Not only was On Kawara still alive, his project was firing on all cylinders…

vkemlt57tt280u2ezkg1sw_thumb_d22c Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

Let me pick out two subtitles from the six:

JAN.20: "The United States' major airlines agree today to meet the three-year deadline proposed by the Nixon Administration for eliminating most of the smoke pollution from jet aircraft."

That seems so contemporary. It might just as well say. "The United States airlines agree today to meet the three-year deadline proposed by the Biden Administration for eliminating most of the carbon emissions from jet aircraft."

JAN. 23: "A death-mask stolen, of James Joyce."

"A death mask stolen, of Philip Roth." Was it Philip Roth I'm thinking of? Or some other male writer stripped of iconic status by society's ME TOO movement?

vcbost0lsbauakq5tcjzya_thumb_d22d Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

And one more from this six:

JAN.28: "The Government of South Africa refused today to give a visa to Arthur Ashe, the American Negro tennis player, to play in the South African open championships." This brings to mind: "A policeman from Minneapolis refused to take his knee off the neck of George Floyd, the black American accused of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill, until he was lying dead on the street." Of course, that didn't happen today, April 22, 2021, but the policeman was found guilty yesterday, or the day before, so that all remains fresh in everyone's mind.

j6m0qmier7ob8aaejoveqw_thumb_d22e Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

I'll paraphrase the above row of painting subtitles. But I'm not going to miss any out. That doesn't seem right:

JAN.31: Nixon on inflation.

FEB1: Israel and Syria fighting in the Golan Heights.

FEB 2: Death of Bertrand Russell, aged 97.

FEB.3: 19 of 19,000 policemen in Britain are coloured.

FEB 3: Theft of rockets in Thailand.

FEB. 4: I'd better give this subtitle in full, as it is nuanced: "In Washington, Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, told Congress today that the age of triumphant science and technology was forcing man into a new philosophical era based on the 'why' of living."

Was that suggesting that 'the triumph of science and technology' was giving people more time to think about life?

Was that why, on February 5, artist On Kawara wrote a telegram to Sol LeWitt to inform him that he was 'STILL ALIVE'?

mt3uagvhrkw7ntmeibm3aa_thumb_d226 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Where is 117 Hester Street? It's in the south of Manhattan, close to where Dan Graham lived at 87 Eldridge Street. Dan will be moving centre stage shortly. But I have to take you through this stage of daily productivity, one day at time. I really do. By the way, On Kawara sent nineteen 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams between Jan 20 and March 31, when the daily Date Painting exercise came to an end. That's one every three or four days. Whereas the Date Paintings (at this time), the postcards, the 'I WENT' maps, and the 'I MET' lists, were produced daily.

l6fafqetrg2swgfkuv0exa_thumb_d22f Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

FEB. 5: Tanzania moves towards socialism.

FEB 6: A Greek composer is alive and well in Oropos Detention Camp north of Athens.

FEB. 7: South African archaeologists report the world's oldest mine at 43,000 years old.

FEB. 8: A huge bomb goes off at the South Vietnamese National Press Centre in Saigon.

FEB.9: An 18-month-old Missouri boy is bitten to death by his mother's dog.

FEB. 10: An avalanche in Val d'Isere, France, kills 39 young skiers.

I wonder if On Kawara did his reading as he waited for his paint to dry. In any case, the painting complements what is happening in the world. People are living and dying, just as they've always done. While one man lives his one and only life, quietly, meditatively, wisely.

3ny417hnsyccjbz002bt6uqoq_thumb_d230 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

FEB. 11: In expectation of attacks on Cairo, car-owners are given 24 hours to paint their headlights blue.

FEB. 12: A Liberian tanker, full of a million gallons of oil, sinks in 100 feet of water off Nova Scotia, Canada.

FEB. 13: Bank robbers steal 40,000 dollars from a bank in Danbury, Connecticut, after setting off bombs in bank, police station and parking lot.

I'm writing all this in the present tense. But remember that On Kawara usually reads about the day that he's painted in the following day's paper. But the newspaper cutting, placed in the box, is from the same day as On Kawara painted. Which goes some way to explaining why there is often no relationship between subtitle and cutting. Which adds to the complexity of what's going on.

llmh7tkyry69wnb0kn3tiq_thumb_d231 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

FEB. 14: North Korea lets some passengers go from a South Korean airliner hijacked two months before.

FEB. 15: The Seine, swollen by days of rain and snow, spills over its banks in Paris.

FEB. 16: The 4 million people of Cairo feast, dance and sing under warm sun.

Does the pleasure of the people of Cairo come at the expense of the people of Paris? Will the people of Paris be up next week, and the people of Cairo down? Can hijacking a plane make these adjustments happen more quickly, or do they just interfere with the natural equilibrium of it all?

To hijack and to kidnap are deplorable events, causing intense fear and pain. Yet such events emerge from grievances, fear and pain that have gone on for a long time. They are not just deplorable. They are checks and balances too.

OK let's conduct another technical check, just to make sure things are tickety-boo.


The lower part of the 'B' in February is wider in the painting of the 17th rather than the 18th. The '7' is a wider number than the '8' though the '8' is taller than the '7', exceeding its limits top and bottom, but '1970' is similarly placed in the two pictures. On Kawara has compensated for the extra width of the 7, by tucking the comma underneath it. Visually that decision seems to make sense. Though it does mean that the placing of the comma is markedly different in the two Date Paintings. Were templates used? I think so. (I keep changing that last sentence. It last read: 'I don't think so'.)

rism9uuwsmsmw1mirlze9w_thumb_d239 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

FEB. 17: Spread of Deadly Viral Fever in Nigeria,

FEB. 18: Report of a Chicago trial where defendants were acquitted of plotting to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

FEB. 19: U.S. B-52s bomb North Vietnamese supply depots.

FEB. 20: Friday

FEB. 21: Laotian Government troops driven from their positions in Laos.

FEB. 22: A 14-year old stowaway Australian boy falls to his death as the plane's undercarriage retracts above Sydney.

So what happened on Friday that was too dreadful to write out? Let me guess. While a US B-52 bomber dropped its load on North Vietnam, a 14-year-old Australian boy fell to his death there. Meanwhile the deadly viral fever spread out from Nigeria until the whole of Africa was engulfed by it.

I've moved the Guggenheim book to one side of my desk. Because it's to be joined now by the Glenstone volume, published in 2018. Starting on February 21, On Kawara began sending postcards to Dan Graham. Always the same card, an aerial view of the Statue of Liberty on its small island in New York harbour. A double-page of the Glenstone book shows 30 of the cards. He kept this up until July, which means he sent more than 120 days of Statue of Liberty cards to Dan Graham.

Below are the first three. OK, so On Kawara is 'still alive'. But I wonder if it's possible to say more? Such as, 'On Kawara is feeling on top of the world, a world of sadness and war'. Or 'On Kawara can relax about everything when he communicates with his pal, Dan'. Or 'On Kawara got up at 5.20P.M'. My God, that Apollo Moon mission must have really taken it out of On Kawara. He'd never recovered from that. Once an astronaut, always lost in space.

rv002bsrecqsbgvm8bxpwcguq_thumb_d212 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I've come back to this essay in December 2022, to make an intervention. The fact that I am able to request 'I MET' lists from Art Gallery Ontario, means that I must do exactly that. Please note, dear reader, the odd getting up times on the postcards to Dan Graham. That is one of the things I want to investigate. Accordingly, I have requested these three 'I MET' lists, and I have colour-coded them:

February 21, 1970 (Getting up time 12.24pm)
Hiroko Hiraoka
Takashi Hashimoto
Herbert Vogel
Dorothy Vogel
Dan Graham
Jo Baer
Robert Mangold
Lee Lozano
Nobumitsu Fukui
Masao Hattori
Miyoko Kondo
Jo Matsuura
Fumiaki Nakamura
Miyuki Fukui

  On Kawara got up shortly after noon. He met Hiroko. Then he met his regular non-artist acquaintance, Takashi Hashimoto. I imagine On made a start to his daily Date Painting. At some stage he met the collectors, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, who he sent the first 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram to in January. This might have been at the same time he met three western artists, Dan Graham, Robert Mangold and Jo Baer. It is surely significant that On Kawara met Dan Graham this day. (He didn't meet him on subsequent days, not for the rest of the year.) This day was the first of 120 days that Dan Graham would be sent a postcard showing the Statue of Liberty. This may even have been Dan Graham's idea. I mean something like this: "Sure, On, begin sending me postcards starting today, if you like. But can I make a special request? Can they all be the same card? Can they all be of the Statue of Liberty? I love that damn statue. It's the finest piece of public art in the world."

What happened at night? Clearly On Kawara was in the company of The Fukuis, Masao Hattori, Miyoko Kondo, Jo Matsura and Fumiaki Nakamura as midnight came and went, because these names were all MET at the beginning of February 22. Though it looks as if Soroku Toyoshima joined the party shortly after midnight (he is not on the Feb. 21 'I MET' list).

Before I move on from here I must add that the 80-year-old Nobu Fukui remembers this day in some detail and has written to me as follows:

'I met On in 1965 after my first show in New York at Daniel's Gallery, which, by the way, was owned and directed by Dan Graham, who later became a well known conceptual artist. I believe that On hadn't started "Date" painting yet.'

That was just for starters. It was followed by this concerning February 21, 1970:

'I was visiting On and Hiroko that day. He told me that Dan Graham was coming for dinner, and they asked me to stay since they knew that I showed at his gallery. Dan sold one painting and he never paid me. The gallery had no money and Dan was broke when he closed the gallery. I never asked him for my money, but Dan had been avoiding me. So I told On, without mentioning the reason, that I should not stay because it might create an awkward atmosphere.'

From what Nobu says, Dan having dinner with On, who was beginning to think about promoting his work, might be what instigated the idea of the 120 identical cards of the Statue of Liberty. On and Dan (prior to the closing of his gallery) may have agreed that if On posted a bunch of cards to Dan then it would be Dan's intention to exhibit them at Daniel's Gallery at some future date.

'In the beginning of 1970 On started to promote his own work: He invited Sol Lewitt and Carl Andre for dinner also around that time. Sol Lewitt showed at Daniel's Gallery after me which was his first one man show. When I met Carl Andre at a SoHo bar, he said about On "That guy has funny ideas!" He didn't get it. Henry Geltzahler, then the chief curator of American Art at Metropolitan Museum of Art, didn't get it either. I took On and an avant garde filmmaker from Japan to his place. I told Henry that On was painting DATE. He asked me "Does he sign too?"'

Unless one is a professional critic, or similar, one doesn't have to ‘get’ everybody’s work, certainly not equally. I don’t really get Carl Andre’s work. Though I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen an installation for myself. And I have a lot of respect for Konrad Fischer’s taste. But Carl Andre doesn’t come out of Heinz Nigg’s account (see the 1974 essay, Heinz Nigg staying with the Kawaras in November of that year) particularly well. I think of him as a career artist, though I dare say my mind could be changed one day.

That meeting with Henry Geldzahler would have been the one which gave rise to a subtitle for 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.'

Now, thanks to my correspondence with Nobu Fukui, I know that a baffled Henry Geldzahler turned to Nobu Fukui and said, 'Does he do signs as well?’"

February 22, 1970 (Getting up time 5.20pm)
Fumiaki Nakamura
Jo Matsuura
Miyuki Fukui
Nobumitsu Fukui
Miyoko Kondo
Soroku Toyoshima
Masao Hattori
Hiroko Hiraoka
Takashi Hashimoto
Yu Tsuchiya

The getting up time of 5.20pm does complicate things somewhat. It seems likely that the group were playing a mah-jongg tournament. I would guess that Hiroko was the first person On met when he got up at 5.20pm. And only met Takashi Hashimoto and Yu Tsuchiya thereafter. Of course, there might have been another mah-jongg tournament that night, involving the same names again, but if so it finished before midnight. I think it more likely that On used 5.20pm to midnight to get his Date Painting done. Though I must remember that Nobu Fukui has told me that On was capable of either beginning or finishing Date Paintings while playing mah jongg.  

February 23, 1970 (Getting up time 12.18pm)
Hiroko Hiraoka
Katsusuje Miyauchi

On Feb. 23rd, On Kawara only met Hiroko and Katsuje Miyauchi. The latter being the Japanese traveller that On had first met in Mexico City. The guy who would write a novel, published in Japanese in 1980, a book which describes On's extraordinary daily routine both in Mexico City and when Katsusuje caught up with him in New York from September 1969.

OK so in December 2022 I asked Art Gallery Ontario for those three 'I MET' lists. But in June 2023 the entire 'I MET' lists from 1970 were put online by Tama Art University, and I find I should say more at this point. In February, Takashi Hashimoto was met far more often than anyone else (Takashi 17 days, Nobu 4 days, Aoki 4 days, Soroku 6.) What's more, Takashi was met the same day that On met Dan Graham, the day that the sequence of Statue of Liberty cards began. Now Takashi also met On in Buenos Aires at the beginning of an extraordinary sequence of cards alternating between one and two gauchos that were sent on alternate days to Kasper Konig. So it is possible that Takashi encouraged On to be more playful in his choice of postcards. More about Takashi Hashimoto when we get to March.

Back to the Date Paintings. Where were we? Getting towards the end of the second month of this three-month marathon.

rdexnchmtd2cboxj7ha40025q_thumb_d23a Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

FEB. 23: The Soviet Union's anti-missile defences.

FEB. 24: Hawaii's abortion law to be the most liberal in the United States.

FEB. 25: A controversial portrait of Queen Elizabeth is revealed in London.

FEB. 26: President Nixon to send ground troops to fight in Laos?

FEB. 27: The Crown Prince of Nepal gets married against the snow-draped Himalayas.

FEB. 28: India and Pakistan in deadlock re the distribution of the waters of the Ganges.

Most depressing of that six? FEB.28. Most trivial? FEB.25. Perhaps the portrait of Queen Elizabeth could be given to the people of India in return for that country waiving its rights to the waters of the Ganges. Not enough? All right, throw in the Soviet Unions' anti-missile defence system and Hawaii's anti-abortion laws. Deal? Great, let's celebrate by attending the marriage of President Nixon and the Crown Prince of Nepal against a backdrop of the snow-draped Himalayas. Is that not where the waters of the Ganges comes from? Aw-aw, I think there's going to be trouble.

But let's not get carried away. Let's keep it real. So how about comparing the look of FEB. 27, 1970 to the painting that was made on FEB. 27, 1967, the year in which I tentatively concluded that On Kawara was using templates much or all of the time.


Well, straight away one sees that the letter 'B' is not done in the same way. The shape of the inner dark bits, top and bottom in the two examples are very different. Let's add the day before and the day after FEB. 27, 1970 and see what we have:


Yes, FEB. 26, 27 and 28 have all been made in the same way (the letter B is the same in all three). Although it could be that a different set of templates was used in 1970 than the one used in 1967, I think it's more likely that On Kawara really knew his technique by this time and was able to draw identical letters with identical spacing, with the aid of a ruler and a few measurements, time after time.

tvametzctiotne5un2ssow_thumb_d23b Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

MAR.1: The socialist party wins Australia's national election.

MAR. 2: Italy evacuates 6,000 dwellers from the north shore of the Bay of Naples.

MAR. 3: Japan's highest building, the World Trade Centre, opens for business.

MAR.4: Britain, the Netherlands and West Germany sign a treaty concerning a new process of enriching uranium.

MAR. 5: The treaty to stop the spread of atomic weapons goes into effect today, the U.S and the Soviet Union hoping it will curb the arms race.

MAR.6: The New York Times

I could play games with all that, but I'm not going to. Partly because the set of six is arbitrary. Why not a calendar week? Well, sure, but then the pattern would simply be a little different. The same themes constantly crop up. How people get on with each other, via elections, treaties, wars and commerce. I picture the World Trade Centre in Japan with 6000 Italians evacuated from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius chilling out on the 14th floor… Britain, Holland and Germany signing a treaty about uranium enrichment on the 20th floor… Australian socialists having a party on the 40th floor… And, right at the top of the building, an American and a Russian shaking hands on an anti-nuclear war initiative... It's that handshake that makes it onto the front page of the New York Times which is being edited on the 30th floor… Looks like I have played a game with those subtitles after all. No wonder they called it the World Trade Centre.

ikuxo87dqr002begnngzqqg0025g_thumb_d243 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

MAR.6: A fire at 18 West 11th Street, New York, kills a man and destroys a four-storey building.

MAR. 7: Solar eclipse in North America. Nixon announces wide-ranging space goals for the 1970s.

MAR. 8: Guatamallan guerrillas release a US diplomat after holding him hostage for 39 hours.

MAR.9: Residents of the Isle of Dogs, East London, celebrate 'independence'.

MAR. 10: Sweden asks United Nations for agreements to control pollution.

MAR.11: Erle Stanley Gardner, detective novel writer, dies aged 80.

When On Kawara notices something happening in Britain, it's often comical. Tragedy lies elsewhere: Viet Nam. Wisdom lies somewhere else also: Sweden.

u0025rny5waslcf3hdup8marg_thumb_d244 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation..

MAR.12: The Nevada Gaming Commission begins to license makers of casino supplies.

MAR. 13: The Brazilian Government agrees to the demands of the kidnappers of a Japanese consul general.

March 1970 was a significant month for On Kawara for personal reasons in that it was the last time (except for a brief meeting in Tokyo) that he met Takashi Hashimoto. Apart from Hiroko, Takashi was the one person that On met on the 13th and the only person he met on the 14th. If these meetings were sad, they didn't prevent On from carrying on with his work.

MAR. 14: Meeting in Moscow to discuss anti-Viet Cong outbursts in Soviet Union.

MAR.15: Expo' 70 opens in hills north of Osaka, Japan.

MAR. 16: Cambodia opens talks with the Vietcong on the presence of their troops in this neutral country.

MAR.17: Malaysia and Indonesia sign a new treaty of friendship.

Those subtitles reflect major interests: Viet Nam, Japan and war, and the desirability of avoiding war. MAR.12: Maybe gambling can take people minds off war. Well, no, because the gambler soon becomes broke, but his addiction means he has to get more money from somewhere. And he goes to war for it. MAR.15: Maybe trade can do the trick. Well, no, because there is always something the consumer wants to buy next, and that costs money which is what he's run out of. And he goes to war in order to get his hands on easy cash.

The Date Painting (the poverty, the war, the anti-war resolutions) just goes on and on, so I'll take break from it. But first another templates test using the fact that I have a repro of MAR. 17, 1967 to work with:


Ha! The 'R' is a much wider letter in 1970. Let's check with the previous two days:


In each case, the 'R' is done the same way in 1970. Though I think the letter is at its widest on MAR. 16. Let me see if I can prove that by laying one letter over another:


Actually, no. The two letters 'R' are the same width. The above image has MAR.15 superimposed over MAR. 16. If I send MAR. 15 to the back, the two letters still correspond closely.


If I move the dates minutely to match up each letter and number in turn, I get complete concordance. Except with the 9. Below is the closest match I can get:


To be honest, all this exercise reveals is the magic beneath the superb technical skills being employed by the artist. Again, I don't think he was using templates in 1970, just a well-practiced, superb eye. (Of course, he was using templates!)


OK let's take a break. For, see below, things are not going smoothly on the 'I GOT UP' front:

vsv9q00251cr3etl3d0rnlrxa_thumb_d25c Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It looks like Dan Graham had not been receiving his postcards. Clearly he was living in La Jolla, California, and another resident of 84 Eldridge Street finally got round to redirecting a couple of cards to him there. Presumably the other cards were in a pile somewhere at 84 Eldridge Street, perhaps in a mailbox in the entrance hall.

On Kawara painted on, oblivious to the fate of his daily postcards. His job finished the second the postcard entered the postal system. But hang on a minute. Surely On Kawara knew that Dan Graham was in California. Dan would have said he was heading out that way on February 21. And, if not, then On would have heard it on the grapevine. So maybe On Kawara had in mind his friend coming on all the cards at once. It seems that On Kawara never stopped playing games.

mzbgchq8qjksdy7ut3im7g_thumb_d245 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

On March 18 he painted three Date Paintings, only for the second time ever.

MAR. 18: The Chief of State of Cambodia is overthrown in his absence.

MAR. 18: Civilians and soldiers withdraw from Long Tieng, Laos, as the US-supported base falls to North Vietnamese troops.

MAR. 18: The US's first postal strike begins in New York.

Let's check out the technique as we enter the final straight of this DP-per-day effort, by overlaying the three possible combinations of two March 18 Date Paintings, and see how close the correspondence is:

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Pretty close I'd say. On Kawara was no machine, but his hand-crafted paintings come near to the quality expected in the machine age.

Would he have painted them consecutively or would he have had all three on the go at once? Well, let's see what time he got up on both the 18th and 19th. Let's consult the postcards that, I presume, were lying unread at 84 Eldridge Street.

51akiwzwt8owyqytwfem002ba_thumb_d272 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation..

What incredible getting up times. You would have thought that if On Kawara was going to make a special effort to paint three DPs on the 18th he would have got up in the morning! And as he had to have finished them all by midnight, did he then go to do some other activity to account for the 2.45pm rise on the 19th? Playing mah-jongg against Nobu, Aoki, Soroku, and the rest, for instance? Playing mah-jongg all day while Date Painting all day! The mind boggles. What was that quote from Nobu Fukui again: 'His concentration and intensity was mind-boggling to some of us watching him.'

All the postcards to Dan are sent from 340 East 13th Street. None (as far as I can tell) from 97 Crosby Street or 53 Greene Street. More on this later.

Where were we?

MAR.19: The leaders of East and West Germany meet to find common interests.

MAR. 20: A Cambodian Army commander asked for help against the Vietcong from an American spotter plane and South Vietnamese artillery.

MAR.21: Saturday.

On Kawara met Takashi for the penultimate time over the weekend of March 21 and on March 22. On the first of those days he met Hiroko and the Fukui's (Nobu and Miyuku). I think that all these people were up late on Saturday night, aware that Takashi was leaving soon.

Did it put On off his stride? Not at all.

zhiayne4shul6mryq002b7grg_thumb_d273 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

MAR. 22: 1,000,000,000,000 dollars has been spent on arms and armed forces around the world in the last six years.

MAR. 23: In the Congo, 50 rebel commandos take over a radio station and announce the overthrowing of the President.

MAR. 24: In the Dominican Republic, guerrillas kidnap a US air attaché, demanding the release of 21 prisoners.

MAR.25: Lebanon is tense after fighting between Palestinian commandos and mountain villagers.

I have to step in here to report something significant in On Kawara's personal life. March 25 was the very last day that On Kawara met Takashi Hashimoto (well not quite, they would meet up briefly in Tokyo in November of this year). On met Takashi on seven separate days in March and on this final occasion Hiroko and Aoki were met as well. I guess Takashi was moving away from New York. I have no idea what he did for a living but I do know how close he was to On and Hiroko. He would be deeply missed. And yet On kept on Date Painting. Perhaps it took his mind off his loss.

MAR. 26: The four powers that occupied Germany after World War 2 meet in Berlin to discuss tensions.

MAR.27: South Vietnamese troops launch their first major operation into Cambodia.

All those subtitles from March 22 to March 27 are about war. Wars of the past and present, and portents of war to come.

I suppose it's possible there was an argument with Takashi. But I don't want to believe that.

k002b1yudsxryuavgjfhmjfng_thumb_d274 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the Guggenheim, and the understanding of One Million Years Foundation.

MAR. 28: American troops are given permission to cross into Cambodia in response to enemy threats.

MAR. 29: An earthquake shakes western Turkey, killing 600 people.

MAR. 30: Monday

MAR.30: The British Royal family begin tour of Australia on the 200th anniversary of its 'discovery'.

MAR. 31: Fifteen radical left students hijack a Japan Air Lines plane and order it to fly to North Korea.

On Kawara had done it. Despite everything that the world had thrown at him, the artist had stuck to his self-appointed task, at least one Date Painting made every day for three months: 97 paintings in 90 days.

And then he cracks: "Takashi!"

No time to mourn though, not with all On's other commitments. It was on April 1st, while still sending an 'I GOT UP' card each day to Dan Graham, that he sent the first one to Hirotsugo Aoki. As one might conceivably guess from the photo below, Aoki received cards for about a month.

vrtqr0zns3ed2mceipmkrw_thumb_d201 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Perhaps the loss of one friend, Takashi Hashimoto, made On value his remaining friends all the more.

The most significant things about the above cards - for me - is the address of the recipient: 97 Crosby Street. That's the place that On Kawara stopped the day he returned from Mexico, on the way to the Fukuis loft on Greene Street. It was On Kawara's base for the second week or so of his return. I've already said (in several different ways) that Aoki was a close friend of On Kawara's. And I've deduced he had space to spare in his loft. In the last chapter I quoted an interview in which Aoki claimed to be living in the warm flat of an English professor in the winter of 1969/70, but I suspect he held onto the unheated loft at 97 Crosby Street, he would need it for his carpentry, especially if it was handy for On as well.

I'll remind the reader that Hirotsugu Aoki and On Kawara shared quite a lot. Firstly, they shared a traumatic Japanese upbringing, despite Kawara being ten years the senior, the traffic accident having the same devastating effect on one as the dropping of the atomic bomb had had on the other. That and their immigrant status in New York, and a shared interest in cutting-edge contemporary art, may well have been the basis for such a close friendship. Aoki had been very much around during the 1969 Apollo moon landing, they had shared that experience too.

I did track down Aoki, via a third party. But the third party told me that Aoki was declining to communicate with me. Hardly surprising, given that On's friend would have known all about On's secrecy and avoidance of publicity. All the more valuable to me the information that has been volunteered by Nobu Fukui.

In 2022, I asked AGO for three 'I MET' lists from April.

April 10, 1970 (On got up at 12.23pm)
Hiroko Hiraoka
Hirotsugu Aoki
Teresa O’Connor
Alexa Grace
Nobumitsu Fukui
Miyuki Fukui

On met Hiroko first, as usual. Then he hooked up with Aoki and his girlfriend, Teresa, even though On was sending him 'I GOT UP' postcards. It seems that On (probably in the company of Hiroko) spent the evening, pre- and post-midnight with Nobu and Miyuki Fukui, who they sometimes stayed with at their rented 53 Greene Street loft. That pair crop up an awful lot.

April 11, 1970 (On got up at 2.52pm)
Nobumitsu Fukui
Miyuki Fukui
Hiroko Hiraoka
Soroku Toyoshima
Lee Lozano
Stephen Kaltenbach
Abi Kaltenbach  

Soroku Toyoshima, ghosting in half-way through On's day. I will talk about him too on some other occasion, but for now I must retain focus on On. Remember, On Kawara is not Date Painting in the first half of April following his 90 DP days in a row. But his getting up times are still late. It is not Date Painting that causes On to get up mid-afternoon. It is something else, presumably mah-jongg. Definitely game-playing.

I doubt if mah-jongg was happening either side of midnight on April 11/12 though, given who was present. Lee Lozano was a female painter who began doing conceptual works from the late 60s. In 1969 she stopped meeting with members of the New York art world. In 1971, she stopped communicating with her own gender. This was only supposed to go on for a month, but lasted the rest of her life.

Stephen Kaltenbach is still a practising artist and he has a website that tells me he has an upcoming show at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in 2023. I wrote to him asking about the two 'I MET' lists and he immediately wrote back. He could not remember meeting On Kawara, putting this down to being 'spaced out' aka 'stoned' for much of the time that he lived in New York. Stephen told me that his life fundamentally changed when in 1970 he moved from New York to California, where he still lives. He put a lot of archival stuff into storage in a New York basement that was subsequently flooded. Among the things destroyed by water were three 'I GOT UP' postcards that On had sent him, presumably between the April meeting and the flit. Stephen lost much personal material in the accident, but the thing that his mind has kept returning to over the last fifty years was the loss of these postcards. His final email to me finished: 'I regret not pursuing friendship with On. I wonder what would have become of it.'

April 12, 1970 (On got up at 2.22pm)
Lee Lozano
Stephen Kaltenbach
Abi Kaltenbach
Hiroko Hiraoka
Katsusuke Miyauchi

It would seem that after On Kawara got up from his sleep, he only met Hiroko and Katsusuke Miyauchi, which is similar to the pattern of February 23, 1970.

From the end of April, On Kawara stopped sending a card to Hirotsugu Aoki. The last card - sent on April 30, 1970 - was the same card that he was still sending every day to Dan Graham. A nice touch, bringing the two friends together in the sender's mind. Aoki may not even have seen the cards, if he'd still been staying at his girlfriend's place, in which case On Kawara had been sending cards to himself. That is, sending cards from where he was working and sleeping (340 East 13th Street) to where he had been sleeping (97 Crosby Street). Tricky birds, artists.

To further complicate things, On had been sending occasional 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams to Teresa O'Connor at 92 Christopher Street, New York. Now that is where Aoki lived with Teresa when 97 Crosby Street was too cold for him. The first such telegram was delivered on April 15, then April 29, then four more in May when the postcards to Aoki at 97 Crosby Street had stopped. So its conceivable that Aoki was getting the telegrams sent to his girlfriend but not getting (until later) the postcards sent to his cold flat on Crosby Street!

Speaking of which (On's trickery), in the Michele Didier volumes of 'I GOT UP', the cards reproduced do not include any of the ones sent to Dan Graham. Instead, the cards featured for this period are the ones sent to Michael Claura, Aoki and Herman van Eelen. The two I've reproduced below are the first to Michael Claura in Paris (they start the same day as the cards to Dan Graham). And the second card to Herman van Eelen in Amsterdam. (The first card to him was the classic view of the Statue of Liberty as had been sent to both Dan Graham and Aoki the day before.)


Why no Dan Graham cards in the Michelle Didier volumes? I suppose On may have felt that the cards sent to Dan were a distinct set in themselves and should be seen as such. Maybe they reminded him of Takashi Hashimoto and to include them would have been too painful. Maybe it wasn't possible to trace the owner of these cards in 2008. So many unknowns connected to On's 'I GOT UP' series (and to the name Takashi Hashimoto).

On Kawara painted just two Date Paintings in April (15 and 17), following the Herculean efforts of January, February and March. Both had Apollo 13 subtitles.

As I say, at the beginning of May the second postcard (the one to Dan Graham was ongoing) began to be addressed to Herman van Eelen. These were to persist for four months. Herman had told On Kawara that he'd exchanged postcards with his mother when they'd both been in different prisoner of war camps run by the Japanese in Indonesia during the Second World War. This seemed to have moved On Kawara. As On stamped out each postcard he must have been thinking about Herman and his mother in their respective prisoner-of-war camps. Their days full of hunger and fear. In contrast, On Kawara was a free man, but he had respect for those of an older generation who had fought on the side of freedom and suffered for it.

Day after day a card for Herman van Eelen would arrive: I GOT UP AT… I GOT UP AT… I GOT UP AT… A different kind of triumph of the human spirit. And I can imagine Herman in turn being moved as he received each postcard, just as he had been upon receiving each card from his mother, when his and her existences had been a living nightmare.

Meanwhile, the cards were piling up at 84 Eldridge Street, with Dan Graham still being in California. On May 5, another card had the Californian address written on it in a futile attempt to stem the flow of statues of liberty. And, throughout the rest of May, a total of eight of the cards had a single line drawn through the 84 Eldridge Street address. Presumably these were put in the post and would have been returned to sender. That is, On Kawara sitting like a trim Buddha at 340 East 13th Street.

9mzcwumatlyuogwhno0kta_thumb_d278 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation..

I'm going to finish the first half of On Kawara's 1970 by truly celebrating these cards to Dan Graham. Look - the penultimate one is not even franked. The Post Office had given up the ghost.

91p3zgt3src62gt7e4orzq_thumb_d213 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I can imagine that Dan Graham sent a single letter in response, whose message may have read something like this:

'Hey, On, buddy, I've just got 'em. A pile of 100-odd. Great stuff: perfect for a show at my gallery But is the old lady on the pedestal talking to me, a Jew, and you, a Jap? Are we truly among the tempest-tost she's up for saving? I guess so.

I'm told that Buzz Aldrin reckoned he could see the Statue of Liberty from the surface of the moon, though Neil Armstrong reckoned Buzz was hallucinating the entire time they were Moonside. I'm told too that Apollo 13 came within a few yards of crashing into the Statue of Liberty. Why do people tell me such crappy things?

The Statue of Liberty would be a great place for a true American to commit suicide. He wouldn't even need a rope. He'd just climb all the way up the stairs to the viewing platform in the crown. Then all the way up the ladder in the arm to the viewing platform in the torch. Then he'd simply toss himself off into space. Can you hear me, Joseph Kosuth? How the New York art crowd would cry themselves to sleep!

Look, I'm back in the busiest city on the planet. I'm up and dressed. Let's meet. I want to talk about this great idea you've given me for 'Homes in America'. Postcard wallpaper! Message-side to the fore in the bedroom. The idea being that the American people need to get their asses out of their beds, cos one little Jap is already up, and he's kickin' the ball right out of the park.'

658cezejrvqujfbogq9kua_thumb_d27a xgybcob5szq5ry4j5nfblg_thumb_d27d yqr3pa60r7y6gnnkzbr002bsq_thumb_d27c mmgmbszirhi002b013xfzygoq_thumb_d27b Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Glenstone Museum, and thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I have enormous respect for On Kawara. And I'm beginning to develop a soft spot for Dan Graham, entirely thanks to On Kawara's friendship with him. Graham passed away in 2022, so I'm not going to find out how he really felt about receiving all those wonderful postcards. Not that he would have told me. Dan Graham's respect for On Kawara's autobiographical but secretive project would have meant that no such communication would have been risked. Think Kasper Konig. Think Hirotsugu Aoki. Think Hiroko Hiraoka. Though do not forget about the honourable exception, Nobu Fukui.

Here is a photo that was taken in 1970. It shows Nobu Fukui playing pong-pong in his studio at 53 Greene Street. On other days the studio was set up for mah-jongg tournaments with tables that four people could sit around. Maybe like that table where the guy wearing white trousers is sitting.


I have had a good look round the people present at this party at 53 Greene Street, and I don't think On Kawara was present. I think a few of the guys may be talking about him though. The guy standing in the blue shirt in the foreground; the guy leaning forward in his chair; the aforementioned guy sitting on the table. They all seem to be saying the same thing: 'His concentration and intensity was mind-boggling to some of us watching him.'

The Date Paintings - from the beginning of January to the end of March - were exhibited at the 10th Tokyo Biennale from May to July, 1970. On Kawara had paved the way for this the year before, with his postcards to Toshiaki Minemura. It seems from the installation shot, see below, that the work would have had an incredible impact on anyone who saw it. (On Kawara remained in New York.) Or maybe it was still too soon after Hiroshima and Nagasaki for mere art to have a big impact on the people of Japan.


The installation shot reminds me of the photos of On Kawara's original loft studio at 405 East 13th Street in 1966. Only there the paintings were of various sizes (especially size A, B and E), not just size B. And there Kawara had a whole year's worth of A's and Bs hanging on the wall and a row of E's resting on the floor.

On reflection, I prefer the photos where the size of the paintings varies. In the Tokyo set-up you just might get the impression that the artist had been going through the motions (a quick template and stencil job) and not giving his all to each and every Date Painting. To each and every day he lived. To days spent with Hiroko, Takashi, Aoki, Nobu and the rest.

I need to interject another perspective at this point. While working on the 1972 essay, I came across the names 'Tatsuo Kondo' and 'Miyoko Kondo' on an 'I MET' list. As usual, I looked them up on Google and discovered there is a T&M Kondo Foundation, which has a website.

On this website, I learned that from 1965 to the 1980s, Tatsuo Kondo, a career painter, would send regular, chatty letters to the editor of a contemporary art magazine in Tokyo for whom he was also producing reviews of shows and feature length articles. In the letters, he describes Nobumitsu Fukui as one of his closest friends. On Kawara is mentioned several times. One key paragraph is this:

'New York's mahjong fever is still the same, but my boy recently learned mahjong and is completely infatuated with it. On weekends, Mr. Kawashima, Mr. On Kawara, Mr. Hiraoka, Mr. Toyoshima, Mr. Fukui and others all night are playing mahjong. Last time I did it at home, it was a lively thing with 3 tables. I don't play mahjong, so I only drink alcohol. The tokkuri that Mr. Yamazaki used to drink contains a lot of alcohol, so it's very convenient when I only need one bottle, so I always use it.'

This confirms the names of the most committed players (apart from Hirotsugu Aoki), as suggested to me by both Ansell Bray and Nobu Fukui. The 'Mr. Hiraoka' mentioned is surely Hiroko. Also, Nobu Fukui told me that On Kawara often took Date Paintings along to these mah-jongg occasions and sometimes finished a Date before midnight, or started one after midnight (often using templates to draw the letters). I wondered how he would have time to do this. But if there were three tables, and players rotated, then there would be some waiting time between games. As On Kawara was ‘by far the best player’, according to Nobu Fukui, presumably he would often be finished first and so would get on with his Date Painting. I now realise that some people at these parties were playing mah-jongg and others were watching and drinking, or talking and drinking. Ansell Bray also told me: '

'These games would sometimes go on for days. People would play for hours then nap and get up and play again. Although a lot of beer (beru) and scotch (scotchee) was consumed at these parties, I don’t recall On ever drinking anything alcoholic.’

There is more to come from these letters to Tokyo from someone very involved in how Japanese artists were succeeding, or not, in the New York art world. Though the name that crops up in them most often is Andy Warhol.

One last paragraph from a Tatsuo Kondo letter for now:

September 24,1970: 'For the Guggenheim Japan Art Festival, I will be exhibiting two large works, 6 x 8 and 4 x 10 feet. Emotionally it helps to say that the writers chosen are mostly newcomers. I've been asked if I'd like to make a title background for a contemporary Japanese art film that will be screened during the Guggenheim exhibition, but I'm not sure if I can make a good one. From New York, Mr. On Kawara, Mr. Natsuki Takama, and Mr. Risaburo Kimura, a printmaker, were supposed to exhibit, but Mr. On declined to refrain from exhibiting at the Museum. I was. It seems that he has presented a little too much at conceptual art exhibitions, information exhibitions, and group shows in Europe. Originally, among the conceptual art crowd, there was a strong denial about his stance of exhibiting his work.'

I think the word ‘writers’ should be ‘artists’. I think this is saying that On Kawara didn’t want to exhibit with Japanese painters. Because he wanted to be understood as an international, conceptual artist. I would imagine that Kasper Konig advised him in this regard.


If meticulously creating a Date Painting a day, every day, took up On Kawara's attention in the first three months of 1970, then typing out the last million years, year by year, kept him busy thereafter.

But how busy? That depends on what the artist actually did. It was more a cutting, pasting and photocopying job than a typing one. But whatever mundane activity was involved, a great deal of organisation, discipline and precision were needed. As with the ongoing, immaculate Date Painting.

A Million Years Past was begun in 1970 (despite what Katsusuke Miyauchi wrote), but, I suspect, only finished in 1971. The completed work is in ten volumes. Each volume has 200 pages. On each page are five hundred consecutive yearly dates. It is dedicated 'For all those who have lived and died.' In other words, for all those that can no longer write an 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegram.

The Million Years Past volumes are in some ways a reaction to the telegram work, and On Kawara must have taken pleasure in continuing to be able to send his STILL ALIVE telegram whilst looking back over the vast stretch of time in which previous generations had lived but who lived no longer. The 'lived no longer' bouncing and sizzling off the 'still alive'. The last million years putting the present day in poignant perspective.

In Guggenheim's SILENCE catalogue, Anne Wheeler suggests that A Million Years Past came out of a previous work: 'In 1969, Kawara had created a similar work titled 10,000 Years, in which he typed each of the dates from 8030 BC to 1970 AD in sequence, one at time. This laborious experience led him to devise the cut-and-paste technique used to create One Million Years, which involved gluing columns of single digits to typed and photocopied grids of numbers. A page listing dates from 500 to 1 BC could readily be adapted to make one listing the years 1500 to 1001 BC, and so on.'


How did Kawara integrate this work into his daily routine? Perhaps he only worked on his Million Years on days when he wasn't Date Painting. Perhaps he set himself a target of ten pages per non-Date Painting day. This seems reasonable, as the cutting of columns of numbers and placing over the pro-forma sheet, would need to have been done very accurately. But if it was 10 pages per day. Then in 20 days he would have created the first volume of ten. So in ten months of 20-day slots he would have completed the project: A Million Years Past.

As I say, from what I can work out, the year of creation was 1970-71. This makes sense, as the months available for working on Million Years wouldn't have begun until April, and wouldn't have extended beyond October, as On Kawara travelled to Tokyo on November 14, as we'll soon see. So that's seven months rather than ten. True, On Kawara could have pushed himself harder and completed the project in 1970. But he - and only he - would have been the best judge of the daily workload that he could comfortably manage. There was 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT', 'I MET' and 'I READ' to keep up with as well, remember. And his entire artistic practice was supposed to be an aid to consciousness, not a recipe for stress.

I should stress (that word again) the importance of the Million Years work. I saw it in 1992 at the Lisson Gallery in London in conjunction with a room full of Date paintings. So I would go from a room containing the days of my life (four days from May and June of 1991) to a consideration of pages of books containing almost a million years that would take place without me. Years in which I would be dead or long dead. (It was Million Years Future I was contemplating, though I imagine the same impact would have been got from a contemplation of Million Years Past, the work begun in 1970 and finished in 1971.

And if this contrast was evident to me while looking at the work, it must have been very evident to the mind of the artist who created it. Again 'complements' is the appropriate word. On the one hand the Date Paintings (and the I GOT UP, I WENT and I MET) and on the other MILLION YEARS PAST. What comes out of that is the whine:

I AM STILL ALIVE (but will not always be)

I AM STILL ALIVE (but will soon be dead)

I AM STILL ALIVE (but I will soon be dead until the end of time).

The number of individuals who received 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams had increased to ten by the end of 1970. In all a total of 62 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams went out in this first year of their production. Dorothy and Herbert Vogel got the most. Sol Lewitt got one. Konrad Fischer got six. Fischer would be one of the first galleries to show Million Years Past.

Let's try and integrate this back into 1970. Only 2 DPs were made in April and May, and 5 in June. An excellent opportunity to get Million Years Past underway. Meanwhile, postcards were going to Dan Graham (Feb to beginning of July) and to Herman van Eelen (May to beginning of September). When the postcards to Dan Graham stopped, they began to go to R. Kostelanetz.

Who was R. Kostelanetz? Richard Kostelanetz, born 1940, came onto the literary scene with essays in quarterlies such as Partisan Review and The Hudson Review, then profiles of older artists, musicians and writers for The New York Times Magazine. It may be that On Kawara read the stuff which appeared in the NYT. Perhaps a search through 'I READ' would reveal that.

Seventy-two On Kawara postcards to R. Kostelanetz were sold by Christie's in 2007. Each had been mailed on a date from September 4 to November 14, 1970, the day that On Kawara flew to Tokyo. So it may be that there was a break in the sequence that began on July 8 and ended on November 14, as that would have been 139 cards in all.

In Kostelanetz's book Dictionary of the Avant Gardes, the entry for On Kawara finishes with this: 'I have in the course of my life saved works from many artists, some by purchase and others as gifts, but you can imagine my surprise when the first works from my collection to tour in an international show were unsolicited picture postcards that Kawara had sent me for several weeks, several years before.'

In short, Richard Kostelanetz was a writer, as much interested in literary arts as visual arts, who wasn't close to On Kawara in 1970 or later. On Kawara chose to send him postcards because the two shared an interest in the avant garde.

In July, On Kawara painted nine Date Paintings. Three were subtitled the day of the week in which they were painted, and hint that On Kawara may have been doing less reading than usual. However, the other six subtitles take us… from the US presence in Viet Nam…to the Soviet Union's Communist party's congress… to pollution in the US… to the hijack of a Greek airliner involving Arab commandos…to Israel's government's response to the US peace plan in the Middle East.

In August, only one Date Painting was made in the first half of the month, perhaps because On Kawara was preparing for a fortnight's travel to and through Canada. It can be seen from the day's 'I WENT' that On Kawara arrived at Buffalo from New York on August 24, and visited the Niagara Falls before returning to the middle of Buffalo to sleep.

On Kawara was travelling with Hiroko. At least that is what I deduce from the 'I MET' of August 26, reproduced in On Kawara: SILENCE, where hers is the only name on the daily list of people who On Kawara met.

The length of stays in the Canadian cities was little more than overnight. Nine paintings, all size B, in ten days. As you can see from below, the one he made in Quebec was rendered in the French language, because the local paper is printed in French.

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The AOUT day looks odd, what with no comma or period. There is no comma because the number is coming first, and no period because the name of the month is not being abbreviated.

Back in New York, On Kawara painted three more date paintings in September, dated the 11th, 22nd and 27th. But each was subtitled the day of the week. Perhaps he was back into his Million Years and didn't have so much time for the reading of international news.

Seven Date Paintings in October.


Let's jump from October to November 14, 1970. That's when On Kawara flew unaccompanied to Tokyo. In the two and a half months he was there, he only made five Date Paintings. And I doubt if he was able to progress his Million Years Past while away from his studio. Why did he go?

It may have been by invitation following his work's appearance at the Tokyo Biennalle. But another possibility is that he was reaching the end of his first five years of Date Painting, which would take place while he was in Japan. Maybe he felt the need to go out of his comfort zone to complete the five years of Dates. Perhaps he was thinking of stopping Date Painting altogether. Or was looking for motivation to carry on.

When he arrived in Tokyo, he let Hiroko know that he had survived the long journey.

fmjfetaltsoultoh8aabqg_thumb_db39 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Picture On Kawara flying to his homeland. He was 37 years old. He'd left Japan in 1959, at the age of 26. He'd been 13 when - living in Kariya (red pin in map below) - the atomic bombs had fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (both located towards the south of the island). He'd moved north to Tokyo, to art school, and been part of the avant garde there, but he hadn't been able to recover his equanimity. And so he'd flown to Mexico in 1959, able to do so because his father was working there as an engineer. I suppose 'escaped' is the mot juste. He escaped Japan in 1959.


The postcards On Kawara sent show he was staying in Setagaya City, a district to the south and west of the middle of Tokyo, close to a bridge over the River Tama. That means something to me because, , as well as Tama Art University publishing the complete self-observation series, in 2014, Nobu Fukui published a novel called The Tama River, one of whose scenes takes place on Nobu's 12th birthday, on June 2, 1954 (as opposed to his 25th birthday on June 2, 1967, when he borrowed On's Date Painting templates.)

'I WENT' for November 22, 1970, shows that On Kawara walked from a house (near the bottom of the following map) and took a train to the north. His destination was a densely populated residential area, possibly to meet a friend or a relative.

ct8aqbj2q5ebedzd0hs4ww_thumb_d2ea Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Let's focus on the house he travelled from just north of the Tama River. The following map detail (taken from the 'I WENT' of Nov. 27) suggests a traditional Japanese rural scene.

vjbgnzykr8sunph70qdajw_thumb_d2df Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

What is the address of the house? 1-4-6 Tamagawacho, per this postcard. The recipient, Seth Siegelaub, being the partner of Lucy Lippard (winter, 1969, 'I GOT UP' postcards).

51shelqwrogck9brl1002baeg_thumb_d248 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

This address, 1-4-6 Tamagawacho, on the outskirts of Tokyo, also crops up on postcards sent to Ursula Meyer in November 1970. Ursula Meyer was an art critic and she reproduced the postcards she received from On Kawara in her book Conceptual Art, published in 1973.

I believe On was staying with Yukio and Reiko Ishibashi, and their child Tone. This is a picture of their home taken by Candida Hofer. Note the table-tennis bat on top of the pile of books. As we'll see in 1974 and 1976, On Kawara was mad about ping-pong. I imagine he was 'easily the best' ping-pong player of the New York Japanese set, based on comments made by Nobu Fukui, Barbara Brown and others.

jjgkupimtbiasus7euvjra_thumb_d2f9 Candida Hofer. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

1-4-6 Tamagawacho, per the postcard, apparently means sub-area 1, block 4, building 6. A distinguished suburban area, made up of houses of a variety of designs. From this villa on the hill, On Kawara walked down to the train station on both November 22 and November 27. Perhaps the path really did meander, in the way he drew his red line. A pleasant walk, surely; then and now. With roadside trees, neat gardens and a temple, it wasn't so bad a place to live.

On November 27, On Kawara didn't travel quite as far as on the 22nd, but on the same railway line. He got out of his train at a built up area, Shinjuku Station. That's about eight miles from home. He didn't walk more than a few hundred yards from the station. Perhaps he ate a meal. Perhaps he bought stuff. Or met someone. Who knows? These days Shinjuku City is a heavily built-up part of Tokyo, teeming with commerce.

So the question remains: what did On Kawara do for the next month, before making his first Date Painting in Japan? One thing he would have had to do is come to terms with a shocking event. Yukio Mishima killed himself on November 24, 1970, in a ritualised way by disembowelling himself.

Now Mishima was a colossal cultural figure of Japan in the seventies. He was mentioned in connection with the Nobel Prize for Literature several times in the 1960s. He wrote the tetralogy Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn and The Decay of the Angel in 1969 and 1970. And he killed himself shortly after he completed The Decay of the Angel. Now these books are brilliant. I read them one after another, relishing their delicacy, their emotional power and the mysterious calmness of the ending. Or at least I thought highly of them when I read the four books in 1978, though I haven't read them since to test out the opinions of my 20-year-old self.

What did On Kawara think of Yukio Mishima? He would certainly have had an opinion, as Mishima may have been the most important Japanese author of post-war times. He graduated top of his class from his High School. He read law at Tokyo University. He wrote dozens of novels. His right-wing views in support of traditional spiritual Japanese values and in opposition to American commercial ones were forcefully expressed, though not in his fiction, which was full of subtlety and symbols. An odd thing is that Mishima's actual surname was Hiraoka, which is of course the same as Hiroko's. I don't think this means that much. My research suggests there are 45,000 people in Japan with the surname of Hiraoka. But all the same.

How did On Kawara respond to the suicide of Yukio Mishima aka Kimitake Hiraoka? Well, we don't know. Presumably the Japanese papers were full of the tragedy and all that went along with it (Mishima had a private, unarmed army, and a fellow soldier committed suicide in the same way, on the same day). As I've said, there were no Date Paintings made in Japan in November, 1970. The three Date Paintings made towards the end of December 1970 are simply sub-titled with the days of the week in which each was painted.

It was nearly a year earlier, December 1969, when On Kawara had begun his 'I AM STILL ALIVE' series with the telegram: "I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE DON'T WORRY.' Followed a few days later by 'I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE WORRY.' There is no way he would have sent such telegrams in December 1970. The telegram that he had sent to Hiroko on November 17, just a week before Mishima's death, may have prayed on his mind. And of course it would have prayed on Hiroko's mind. She may well have thought that On Kawara and Yukio Mishima were two of the boldest artists to emerge out of Japan since the war. She was the partner of the one that was STILL ALIVE. But On had travelled to the very city that Yukio Mishima had killed himself in. How was On feeling? How could she not be worried about him?

Here is a single 'I GOT UP' to be going on with, again sent to Seth Siegelaub in New York .

omn00253aufs00252cky7buweafg_thumb_d1b5 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

138 Prince Street also being the address of Lucy Lippard.

And here are a few more, these to Vito Acconci, art world friend and New York performance artist. According to Wikipedia, Acconci 'was characterised by "existential unease," exhibitionism, discomfort, transgression and provocation, as well as wit and audacity. His work often involved crossing boundaries such as public–private, consensual–nonconsensual, and real world–art world.' In Following Piece (1969), Acconci selected random passers-by on New York City streets and followed them for as long as he was able. One can sense that he and On Kawara would have had a lot in common.

ra6wsjyyq2uf95pmtufkoa_thumb_d20d Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I should mention in passing that 102 Christopher Street is just a little along from 92 Christopher Street where Aoki lived in his cosy, life-long affair with Teresa O'Connor.

Just because On Kawara was in Japan, didn't mean he kept more regular hours. Twice he 'got up' after 1pm and once after 6pm, presumably because of all-night mah-jongg. He got up at 6.35pm on his birthday, December 24. But let's think this through. The 'I MET' shows that he met 19 people that day. These included Reiko and Tone Ishibashi, wife and child of Yukio Ishibashi, the family he was staying with.

But the night before, he had got up at a nearby address (see the third of the postcards to Vito Acconci) which I believe was the gallery/home of Tamako Okazaki and Kazuo Okazaki. It's possible that as December 23 merged into December 24, On Kawara was playing all-night mah-jongg with these friends amongst others. The 'I WENT' for December 24 (when On got up at 6.35pm), shows that he got up at the Ishibashi home, made his way on foot to the Okazaki home/gallery, then took a train ride towards the centre of Tokyo. He was again with friends, I deduce. He did not see his parents on his birthday. The next chapter will show that he met them on January 2, possibly just for the day.

What about Date Paintings? Well, there weren't any made in Japan, not until December 26. On Kawara would have painted this if only to ensure that a whole calendar month hadn't gone by with no Dates painted. That's something I've been doing since May, 2021.

7flyhsh1qk6u9kx6wdbiaw_thumb_d2cd Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The presence of the newspaper in the cardboard box underlines something that's odd about this. The printed writing is in Japanese, naturally, and On Kawara knew Japanese (his first language) just as he knew Spanish. So why didn't he make the date using numbers and Japanese characters? One can see at the top mid-right of the paper the numbers 12 and 26, so that's where the date is printed in Japanese: 12261970年 Perhaps On Kawara felt that this was too obscure to mean anything to the Western art world, his primary audience.

Also odd is his use of Esperanto to give the subtitle for 26 Dec. This is written in his 'I READ' file which is otherwise blank. The suggestion is that On Kawara did not read the Japanese press and chose not to use Japanese to render the subtitles.


If he wasn't going to read any Japanese news, I'm surprised that he used an extract from the newspaper to line his box. Couldn't he have left it empty?

On also made Date paintings on 30 and 31 December. Sub-titled, "Merkreda" and "Jaudo", Esperanto for days of the week. He did just two more Date paintings in Japan, in January 1971, and these are sub-titled "2 JAN. 1971" and, for January 24, a title in Esperanto, that translates into: "Do not forget that Esperanto is not only a simple language that each of us uses only for our own needs, but that it is a serious social problem —L.L. Zamenhof."


So On Kawara ignored the Japanese language and newspapers when coming up with subtitles for his Date paintings made in Japan. What does that say about his state of mind? He was not exactly embracing his heritage. And was this not a missed opportunity? Surely, he would have been curious as to how the Japanese press was reporting what was happening in respect of Viet Nam, the Cold War, and the Middle East. And how did the Japanese papers talk about the British? Were they obsessed with the royal family, or the Beatles, or with skirts going up-up-up? And what was Tokyo's take on New York, California, the Apollo mission and other aspects of thrusting Americanness? A country's national press reveals a lot about a nation's psyche. That's partly what On Kawara's subtitles had revealed in New York, Mexico and in various South American and Canadian cities. On the other hand, if he had wanted to emphasise that he was done with the Japanese language, he would not have used an extract from the Japanese paper to line his Date Painting boxes (I've only seen the one for December 26, 1970, and am assuming the other four Japanese Dates do the same.)

I wonder if Mishima's suicide could have been part of the reason that On Kawara decided to distance himself from the Japanese alphabet. Mishima was a master of Japanese. But what good had that done him? I suggest it was a difficult time for On Kawara, as his conscience and his practice wrestled for control.

In any case, what a year 1970 had been for him. The first three months hardly emerging from his New York studio as he painted day after day, in the company of Hiroko, Takashi, Aoki, Nobu and the others.. The last month spent in Japan - out of his comfort zone, having to survive without Hiroko - part of him marvelling at how far he'd come from JAN. 1, 1970, never mind JAN. 4, 1966.


I've left something 'til last, but I mustn't forget it.

Not long after arriving in Japan, On met Takashi Hashimoto for the last time. I think it would have been a single meeting, but it went on until the next day. Here are the 'I MET' lists for November 17 and 18.


It's possible that Takashi arrived and departed with Tamie Odaka. Perhaps his fascination with the art and philosophy of On Kawara had been replaced by a fascination with the flesh and personality of a woman. But I don't know.

The unique thing about Takashi Hashimoto is that everything I know about him comes from 'I MET' lists. Unlike, Aoki or Nobu Fukui or Soroku Toyoshima, he has left no impact on the internet. The picture I am building up of these other three is underpinned by the 'I MET' lists but rounded off by online interviews, email correspondence and gallery notes.

All I know about Takashi is that he would seem to have belonged to the Hashimoto family that On met when in Mexico City, all six of them having a range of Japanese and Spanish first names. Takashi's name first appeared on 17 days in a row of 'I MET' lists at the end of July and the beginning of August, 1968. Then five days in a row in Lima in October, 1968. Then six days in a row in Buenos Aires in December, 1968. When On and Hiroko returned to New York in April 1969, Takashi was then met frequently for almost a year and was clearly part of On's inner circle, along with Aoki, Nobu, Soroku and Katsusuke Miyauchi when the latter was in New York. So it seems to me that Takashi always lived in New York from June 1968 to March 1970, and then perhaps got transferred to Tokyo in March 1970. But what sort of job allows you to take 15 days holiday to Mexico in the summer, five days in the autumn to go to Peru, and then six more in December to spend in Argentina? Maybe he was in finance, but that wouldn't have interested On. Maybe he was a student, but what student can afford to fly around the world in such a way?

I have tried asking a few people about him, but haven't received an answer. (I wish I had asked Nobu Fukui when the lines of communication between us were open.) Time to ask the universe, I think. So here goes:


Answer comes there none. Not yet. But of course I am going to be patient, and sooner or later I expect I will get an answer to that question and perhaps answers to the more mundane questions I associate with Takashi Hashimoto. Then all the magical mystery might be dispelled and we might be left with nothing of lasting interest. (Takashi may have been a callow youth whose presence On and Hiroko tolerated out of the generosity of their spirits.) In the meantime, I'm glad I've taken the opportunity to note the position as things stand.

Next chapter.