GAME ON (11)


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS


Invitation:


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

7-9pm, Friday

DECEMBER 2, 2022

55 Garthland Drive Dennistoun, Glasgow G31 2RF

Host: Kate Clayton, Artist: Duncan McLaren

On Kawara made Date Paintings continually from 1966 until his death in 2014. Each one is a literal rendering of the date, white characters on a dark background: blue, black or red. Each took several hours to paint, and was both started and finished on the day in question. The making of a Date Painting should be a meditative process, where perfection is approached through deep concentration and meticulous drawing and painting. A Date Painting begins with two background layers of sienna or umber, earthy colours that, though later in the day rendered invisible, link the Date Painting to the Cave Paintings made in Europe 30,000 years ago, which made a huge impact on On Kawara when he first saw them, just as seeing On Kawara's Date Paintings in a London white cube in 1992 made a huge impression on Duncan McLaren. McLaren has been writing a biography of On Kawara since February 2021, and to accompany the chapters, he has been making Date Paintings in the style of On Kawara, about fifty of them, from May 15, 2021 to a date still to be painted in November, 2022, thirty-nine of which will be hanging in the tenement close.

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ONE: DEC.1, 2022: THURSDAY

It's actually 4 a.m. on Friday morning, but let that go. For the last hour I've been awake, looking up 'red shift' and 'blue shift' on my phone. It came to me today that the reason On Kawara used red and blue was because of his interest in astronomy and the universe. Most of the universe is going away from our galaxy, and so there is a red shift. While the Milky Way is moving towards the occasional really large galaxy, causing there to be a blue shift. So that's why the only colours On Kawara used for the background of his Date Paintings, apart from black, were red and blue.

I'll come back to that later, but basically what must have put this into my mind was this evening's activity. I was going up and down the stairs of the close, putting small sheets of paper where each painting is to be hung on the wall tomorrow. Up the stairs, up through time from May 7, 2021 to November 28, 2022. Down the stairs (much easier, going back through time), from November 28, 2022 to May 7, 2021. Back and forth through time. Back and forth through space. What more could you ask for? Except for it to go on forever.

Must try and get some sleep. Busy day tomorrow.



TWO: DEC.2, 2022: FRIDAY

The paintings go up on the wall quite easily. One velcro strip (yin) clings onto another velcro strip (yang), while yin clings to the wall and yang clings to the painting's stretcher.

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The Dates start at the back door of the ground floor. They proceed to the front door (where I'm standing taking the picture below).

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The Dates proceed to the bottom of the stairs, along the wall to my left, then go up the stairs.

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A lovely bit of blue shift there. I must say this Glasgow close is a sympathetic environment in which to display these Date Paintings. The canvases hang against white emulsion, while the lower part of the wall is a satisfying, gloss of German grey. Putting up the paintings is almost restful.

Before I get to the top, artist Ross Fleming joins me to help. At his sensible suggestion I measure up and pencil-mark the wall, while he cuts up the velcro and applies the strips to the four corners of the painting and corresponding parts of the wall.

Ross notices from the back of the pictures that each has an umber or sienna undercoat. I give him the Cave Painting spiel. And he mentions that in traditional oil painting, a similar background layer is given so that the top coat of gold or red or blue has a deeper, more intense colour. In other words, On Kawara may have used such a background colour for entirely traditional reasons! I knew it would be a good idea to present this work in an art world context. During 'Close Encounters', my rapidly setting views are bound to be challenged.

An hour before the opening. All the paintings are hung, and Kate Clayton, Ross Fleming and I are walking from Kate's flat to the next floor up. Kate is in a kimono, though she has agreed not to wear it tonight. There is enough cultural appropriation going on as things stand.

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As part of his Talbot Rice residency in Edinburgh, Ross is going to be making a film 'about' George Orwell.

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Interesting that Ross, who looks exactly like George Orwell, should cast Kate to play Orwell in his vampire and perfume-fuelled extravaganza.

True, Ross is the spitting image of tall George, with his black locks - shaved here and overflowing there. But then Ross, like George, is so into flowers, is so into roses, that how could he see in Kate anything but her Or-Wellness. Her Or-Well-Ness. (I have been reading Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit.)

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Kate has dungarees on underneath her kimono. Why? Because she dresses for Dada. She dresses for Big Brother. She dresses for the whole world and the entire 20th and 21st centuries.

This next photo (below) shows the other side of Ross: the vampire. It’s George Orwell’s blood he wants to feed on. So that’s why it has to be someone else who acts the part. How could Ross/George feed on his own blood? He might be a vampire. But he’s not vampire mad. He’s not vampire doolally.

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It is now 7pm. Which means people should be arriving. Kate makes a quick change and is on the ground floor to greet our first visitors, which include her friend, Neil Scott, who writes a blog that Kate is always recommending to me and which I intend to follow as soon as I get round to it.

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Kate's badge says 'NOT DEAD YET'. Of course it does. That's the umbrella phrase under which much of her performance and mixed media work comfortably sits. 72-years-old and scared of nothing and no-one. Christ, has she already been bitten by the vampire?

Ellie Harrison is also an early arrival. She has padlocked her bike to the railings outside and hopes it will be all right. Ellie is an artist based in Glasgow, one of whose concerns is the efficient/inefficient running of public transport. (First Buses in Glasgow is a late-running, non-running joke.) She has come tonight out of loyalty to Kate, but expresses genuine interest in the 'On Kawara' Date Painting premise. She asks on what basis I select the dates. That is an easy question to answer. When I'm between chapters and have no social engagements. Then she asks me why I painted JUNE 12, 2022. I close my eyes in an effort to remember.

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So let's see… I was up to date with the writing of my On Kawara biography. And I needed a painting that I could present to a group of people I was giving a Date Painting workshop to on June 22, 2022. In other words, JUNE 12, 2012 was the perfect foil.

Our conversation continues. I stand to one side so that Ellie can see the foam-board that has been stuck to the grey part of the wall.

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It shows On Kawara painting in a Holiday Inn bedroom in Houston. Although he was in his early thirties at the time, he looks like a kid. One imagines that his mother might be about to call him to the dining table. "That's enough painting for now, On. Come and get your dinner while it's hot."

There are four other foam-boards. Three of which are hung in a vertical column beside the drinks table outside Kate's flat. Look at Joseph Beuys with that big iron on his wrist and that cigarette between his fingers. That part of the timeless shaman is pure Twentieth Century!

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And this next one, featuring Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, head to head. In the course of the evening, I find myself drawing visitors attention to it. Which I know full well I shouldn't be doing. I should be letting them find their own way around the show.

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"Is it a joke?" Asks Ellie. Hmm. Not a good sign if an alert artist has to ask if something is a joke. But is it a joke? I suppose it is. It's a joke that Joseph Beuys would use the word 'fuck' every time he opened his mouth. That is very much a Glasgow thing. Or used to be in the 1970s when the photo was taken. It is a joke to suggest that Joseph Beuys was a great admirer of On Kawara's work. I don't know what either Beuys or Warhol thought of Kawara. They were both great publicists of their own careers, in contrast to On who refused to be photographed (the back view taken by Hiroko hardly counts) or to make any public statements about his work. On wouldn't blow his own trumpet, so he needed Joseph Beuys to blow it for him! Step forward, Kasper König. Oh, now I am getting even more obscure, I'd better get back to the party.

I notice Neil Scott taking a photograph straight down the stairwell. SEPT.30,2022 as well as the hostess from an unusual angle. Or is it Andy Warhol in a fright wig? Hopefully Neil will give me a copy for use in my 'GAME ON' essay.


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Which reminds me to take a photo of what Neil is photographing, from an angle that gets in different Dates. We are close to the top of the tenement stairwell here. Neil is close to the top of the close, as it were.

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Kate/Andy is talking to Thomas, Kate's warm and caring neighbour. It's been so helpful that Thomas and Rory, who own a ground floor flat, have supported tonight's event. It's reassured me that at least a few people would turn up and that there would be no security issues. And so it is proving.

Neil Scott comes down a couple of flights of stairs in order to take another photo of Kate. Yes, she is photogenic, as Andy Warhol would love to have been, almost as photogenic as the Date Paintings over her shoulder, this time OCT.28, 2022 (Evelyn Waugh's 119th birthday) and NOV.23, 2022, one of only two of On Kawara size 'D' paintings that are in tonight's show.

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Tonight's show. Is it working? It's working for me. And about twenty people have shown up. So that's fine.

All this lot (see below) gathered on the ground floor are here because Kate invited them. That's what a gallerist does. He or she has links to the art world. Under the middle of the three peaked caps standing in a row is Gordon Douglas, who is co-leading a project called Good on Paper, supported by Creative Scotland, which involves interviewing a great many performance artists in Scotland. Kate will be part of a Zoom call with him on Sunday. That phrase 'good on paper' really makes one smile in a performance art context. As was no doubt intended.

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The above photo was taken by me at 7.48 P.M. while the photo below was taken by Neil Scott at 8.08 P.M. and shows an entirely different set of visitors. Rory (you get a glimpse of his glasses) and some colleagues from his landscape architect workplace. Rory is always worth listening to, just as he's being listened to here. Funny, quick and wise.

Next photo. Neil Scott, the photographer, is standing in much the same position as he was in the above photo, while Peter McCaughey has taken Kate's place, standing a few steps up from the concrete of the ground floor.

I invited Peter along tonight as, a few years ago, he had delicious things to say about my first book, Personal Delivery. He felt that it engaged with art and the art world in a totally fresh way. I'm back doing that again, I'd like to believe.



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Peter's companion, whose name goes in one ear and out the other, as per usual on any social occasion I attend, purchases a copy of my Enid Blyton book. I thank her sincerely. What a good idea it was to bring along a few of my books. I am an artist. But it's books full of words that represent my practice, not these paintings, intriguing by-products though they may be.


Graham Domke arrives and passes through the crowd of visitors at the foot of the stairs. Graham is a father and an independent curator, having resigned from his post as curator at DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts). He was once involved with a show there that borrowed an original On Kawara, though I believe it was a code piece rather than a Date Painting. After a few minutes, I follow Graham up the stairs. And I take the opportunity to speak to him on the first floor landing as he makes his way back down through the tenement. He likens the experience of 'Close Encounters' to Kawara's retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York. That is nice of him. The zig-zagging stairwell is sufficiently like the slowly spiralling ramp at the Guggenheim to bring that great space to mind. Chronological order is a winning structure in many a context.

I explain to Graham about my blue and red shift theory. It's something I've described to several visitors this evening, always beginning by saying that my first theory of red, black and blue Date Paintings concerned a car showroom and what colours were considered 'classic'. Not orange or green or purple or yellow. Anyway, that was my old theory, red and blue shift is the new one. A red or blue shift for light waves, is like the Doppler effect with sound. And the Doppler effect is best described by invoking the sound of an ambulance as it heads towards you. The noise sounds high-pitched because the waves of sound are being emitted by a vehicle that is getting closer and closer. When the ambulance passes by, and recedes into the distance, the noise sounds lower-pitched, as well as quieter. This is because the vehicle is getting further and further away as it releases its sound waves, so they hit your ear at increasingly large intervals of time. That's exactly the same with light waves. Oncoming ambulance. Think, blue shift. Receding ambulance. Think, red shift.

I return to the happy group at the bottom of the stairs.

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We have a bit of red shift going on here. My Graham Norton impression. But then that's because I've been necking these little bottles of Heineken like there is no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow. And the show will still be up for my personal, calm, solitary, sober, delectation.




THREE: DEC.3, 2022: SATURDAY

All the paintings are still in situ. I've walked up to the top of the tenement and am now back down on the ground floor. The electric lighting has gone off leaving the close bathed in natural, winter light.

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If I give NOV.7 2021 to Noel, who owns the ground floor flat on the left, opposite Rory and Thomas, then I will lose a triptych that consists of NOV. 6NOV.7 and NOV.8, 2021. But 55 Garthland Drive will have gained a triptych of Date Paintings, hung up on private walls, being NOV.7,2021 (Noel's son's birthday), APR.1, 2022 (Rory's birthday) and JAN.3, 2022 (Kate's birthday). So I'll do that.

Let me walk up these stairs yet again, paying attention to the passing of time. The seconds, the days, the months…

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Surely, I have noticed the stained glass windows of the close's half-landings before? But I haven't, not really. On a day like today, they come into their own. I feel the link between December 3, 2022 and JAN.29, 2022. Actual day and essence of day.


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What more does this half-landing have to offer?

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The blue of this Date Painting echoes the blue of the recycling bins in the back close. As far as I'm aware, On Kawara only used this royal blue in 1993, when he was commissioned - a rare thing for him - to paint 12 Dates for a French chateau. The only colour in the room apart from grey and white was gold, and I suspect the artist took that into account when choosing what colour to paint the Dates, one each month throughout the calendar year.

I made three of this blue in February. Another triptych, then? Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 adding up to Feb. 22, 2022.

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On Kawara did not play these sort of arithmetical games. But how can I say that? On Kawara was a renowned game-player, in his life and his work, and I am only aware of some of the games he was playing.

Up towards another half landing. The half-landing between the first floor and the second floor.

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There are eight flats in this tenement block. Four of the flat owners were at last night's opening, enjoying themselves and the vibe. I had friendly chats with two others earlier in the day while I was putting up the paintings. So I think we can say that Close Encounters as an event has gone down well enough as far as the inhabitants of this building are concerned.

Let me pause on the half-landing. This is the July Date I am giving to Xiaohan, the Chinese artist studying at Bourges School of Art who sent me postcards every day for a month this summer, echoing On Kawara's 'I GOT UP' postcards which went on daily for twelve solid years. That's why the red dot is beside it. So is this one of the last times I will ever look upon JULY 9, 2022? It might be. If so, it is looking well. What makes this Date unique is the narrow dark strips between the 'J' and the 'U', between the 'U' and the 'L'. And perfect 2s. Though perfect 2s has pretty much been a given throughout 2022. Only a Date Painting fool would have begun to paint Dates in this year of 2022 without having mastered the technique of painting the number '2'.

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Up towards the second floor. I only painted JULY 18, 2022, because I knew I would be losing JULY 9. Well, not only for that reason, but it was a conscious consideration.

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As I move towards the second floor landing. AUG 6, 2022… AUG 19, 2022, followed by…

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BUTE 26, 2022. Does that make sense? I know that I painted it on August 26, 2022. As far as I'm concerned, it's a Date Painting. But it is an anomaly. I don't really know what to make of it. I wondered if the painting of it would bring an end to my painting of Dates. But it didn't.

SEPT.11,2022. Otherwise known as 'Nine-Eleven' is being sent to Canada. It commemorates a dearly loved person's death, ten years ago. I suppose it also commemorates those killed on that day in 2001. The 21st anniversary of the infamous twin tower disaster.

Up towards another half landing.

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Getting close to the present day now. September… October… November… Oh, that December light, turned to warm sunshine by the stained glass window.

How about this for a blue shift? Feel distant galaxies closing in on you, dear viewer.

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Just a few days ago I was photographing NOV.23,2022 in the countryside around Blairgowrie.

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Blue shift. That's everything coming together to the one spot. A spot where everything becomes one and everything becomes known. What do I know?

I know that I am 65 years old, and that I once was the age of Noel's son, who turned 14 on November 7, 2021. Now 14 is the same as 65 when looked at relative to the age of the universe, which is 14 billion years. How so?

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14 billion years can be expressed like this: 14,000,000,000 years. That is supposed to be when the universe began. So what was happening 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years ago? Nothing? That was long, long, long before space and time existed. Or so 21st century scientists say. Just like the 20th century tobacco scientists told Joseph Beuys and On Kawara that it was safe to smoke. But I digress.

14 is more or less the same as 14 billion, when 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 is evoked. Which means that Noel's son is as old as the so-called universe, relatively speaking. And so am I.

As old as the universe. Relatively speaking



FOUR: DEC.4, 2022: SUNDAY

I was supposed to take the show down yesterday. Now I'm glad I didn't, because Neil Bromwich has been in touch asking if he and Zoe Walker could swing by and catch it on the way to visiting Zoe's mother.

I have known Neil and Zoe for about twenty years, off and on. I went to Tours in the south of France to write about their politically committed yet joy-bringing work for an early issue of MAP. And did I write an earlier piece about their work for CVA? I've a feeling I did.

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Neil seems particularly interested in the Kawara project. I tell him about my blue and red shift theory. I don't know if he buys it, because he mentions how blue and red signify Democrat and Republican parties in the States. This is true, but I've a feeling that it's only been that way since about 2004. On Kawara began Date painting in 1966, deciding on his blue-red-black colour scheme then.

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I mention that in 1978, when On's wife, Hiroko, was pregnant with their first child, the Date Paintings were almost invariably red. Neil points out that in Japan and China, red has different significance than in the West, where red is interpreted as passionate. I accept that when I was writing about this phase of On's life I was doing it from an exclusively Western perspective, and that I need to go back to that chapter in particular and see it from an Eastern point of view.

I say again that there are huge advantages in letting fellow artists in on your work-in-progress. It's no good working in a vacuum, or should I say a world of mirrors. One has to get used to voicing one's 'discoveries' and dealing with doubt and disagreement.

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Zoe and Kate are going at it now. I don't know what they are talking about, but I know it's not On Kawara. Neil and I have fallen silent. But that's all right. We will resume our conversation when the time is right.

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One of the reasons that On Kawara did not make any public statements about his art was that he didn't want things to be nailed down. His work is full of purposeful ambiguity. "What a master!" That's what Joseph Beuys was whispering into Andy Warhol's ear all those years ago.

AW: "Thank-you, Joseph."

JB: "I don't mean you, I mean On."

AW: "Oh, you mean thing."

This text was written on Tuesday, December 6, 2022, and Wednesday, December 7, 2022. Thanks, dear reader, for sticking with it. I hope I didn't overdo the art history.