GAME ON (15)


DAY TRIPPER




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I'm in a hurry to finish today's Date as I want to take it for a journey. One can't cut corners though. A first coat of raw Sienna and two coats of cadmium red all had to dry before I could start to do the pencil work and, at last, get started with the white paint. But I've made a start to the characters and remembered to pause to take a photo mid-paint.

Now to finish…

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Made it. I'm on the 14.50 bus leaving Blairgowrie for Dundee. Usually when I make the walk I have planned I'm able to catch the 13.35 bus, but I needed to wait until the Date Painting was good enough to be photographed. I will put finishing touches to it when I return in the evening…

When I disembark at Newtyle, the day still seems young. Am I in Newtyle though? This church looks awfully like the one Van Gogh painted in Auvers in the last year of his life.

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Perhaps my confusion as to where might be is accounted for by the fact that I'm starting my walk from where I usually end it. This is because the bus to Dundee I usually take goes anticlockwise, via Coupar Angus, whereas today's bus went clockwise via Alyth.

Never mind, withershins or not, what a paradise it seems.

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Newtyle has many public paths. There are abandoned railway lines around here, and that accounts for the unusually distinctive network of paths. It looks like sleepers from the old railway line have been used to make this wayside bench

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I spot a fellow walker crossing the field towards me. I wonder if I can ask her to pose with the Date. She stops to pass the time of day, and it becomes a very natural thing to ask her to hold the canvas. She is from Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland, and has only been living in Perthshire for a couple of months, but she loves it.

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I tell her that I'm always travelling to Bute (in Argyllshire) and notice that the temperature in Bute is usually 2 degrees higher than in Blairgowrie. She shakes her head at this. She wouldn't swop this one blue sky for all the grey skies of Argyll!

I walk on. There is a grand house here called Kinpurnie House, but it is covered in scaffolding right now, so I don't take its picture. This is the view from outside the house's front gate. The view across Strathmore and towards the foothills of the Cairngorms

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Not far (by car) to the left of this view is a magnificent Pictish Stone. But I climb a gate to the left, long before I get to the Pictish stone, and walk up the hill. After a field of sheep, I find it's an oak wood that I'm walking through.

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From Oak Wood Town to Heather Hill. How does that Enid Blyton poem about Binkle and Flip go again? No, forget that. How does the Robert Burns poem go?

"My heart's in the Highlands
My heart is not here.
My heart's in the Highlands,
A-chasing the deer."

This week I've been listening to Bob Dylan's 2002 album, Time Out of Mind for the first time, courtesy of my brother who kindly sent me the CD. It ends with a superbly rambling 16-minute track called 'Highlands', which apparently was inspired by the Burns poem. Certainly it's first line is:

My heart's in the Highlands…

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Bob Dylan crops up many times in the bead-ball-circle paintings of Nobu Fukui, On Kawara's New York friend and contemporary. The paintings appear to consist of overlapping balls studded with shiny beads from a distance, but close up one can detect cultural icons. Painters, especially Van Gogh and Cezanne, and their creations. Also, Andy Warhol, and his famous prints of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe. And, as I say, Bob Dylan. Lots of superheroes and Walt Disney cartoon characters as well, so it's a reflection of society's heroes, not necessarily Nobu Fukui's. All the same, I have read Nobu's book The Tama River where at one point the book's narrator, a 12-year-old boy living in Japan, tells a friend that his favourite painter is Cezanne. So I'm not in much doubt that Nobu Fukui would be an admirer of Bob Dylan's output.

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Ah, Nobu. It's two months since I heard from him. His last email said, in total: 'Hi Duncan. I am very sorry, but I am getting a headache reading your email. Your obsession with On is maddening! Please no more questions, no more emails. I can't handle it. As I said before, I might answer the group of questions you sent me initially if and when I feel like it. But I don't want to hear from you. Your emails will go straight to the spam folder, so don't even try to reply to this.'

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Of course, I haven't replied. However, it is important that I keep my own failures to communicate effectively in proportion. In the last week I have been exchanging emails with Hideo Mori, who has been answering my questions about On's friend and colleague, Tatsuo Kondo, who wrote letters from New York to an editor in Tokyo during the 1960s and '70s. I encouraged him to read the last 'GAME ON' chapter, dealing with the 117 postcards that On Kawara sent to Pontus Hulten in 1972, during the middle of which On and Hiroko took Tatsuo Kondo out of New York for a day's fishing. Having read the piece, Hideo said: 'I read it with the same excitement as when I read a top-notch mystery novel. It's fantastic.'

So I guess I have to take the rough with the smooth.

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This morning, while I was waiting for each coat of background colour to dry, I wrote to Takeshi Kawashima. Now, leaving aside One Million Year Foundation (basically, Hiroko, Kasper Konig and On's children) On Kawara's closest associates in the years I'm investigating were Aoki, Nobu Fukui, Soroku Toyoshima and Takeshi Kawashima. Nobu wrote me several golden egg-laden emails before our communication broke down. Other than that, 80-year-old Aoki has declined to correspond. Soroku died the year before On Kawara. Which leaves Takeshi Kawashima, who Ansell Bray wrote about several times when we were communicating in 2021. Alas, Ansell didn't think to mention that his old pal, Takeshi, was still alive. I only learned that via a chance remark of Hideo's.

In the early hours of this morning, which is when mail from Japan tends to get to me, I received an email from Junko Kawashima, Takeshi's second wife, telling me that they had relocated back to Takamatsu in Kagawa in 2016. Junko told me that Takeshi was getting too old to write, that he was ninety three, was well, but worked slowly. She wasn't sure what they could do to help my study but invited me to ask my questions.

I had already decided to make a Date Painting today. But I also felt I should reply to this straight away, as it was uppermost in my mind as I lay awake in bed prior to getting up. So that's what I did. By the time the second coat of red was drying, an email was pinging its way to Japan. It began by thanking Junko for getting back to me and expressing pleasure that Takeshi, although in his nineties, was still active and in good health. I warned her that I was going to ask quite a long list of questions and that it might be best if they were answered one or two at a time. And of course not all the questions needed to be answered, that whatever Takeshi wanted to say about On Kawara would serve my purposes.

Then followed nine numbered questions, some involving whole paragraphs, others being one-liners. The names of Ansell Bray and Nobu Fukui come up several times, as I am trying to add to the picture that their testimonies have allowed me to build up. I talked about Date Paintings and 'I GOT UP' postcards. And I mentioned a few Manhattan addresses. I ended by apologising for asking so many questions about so long ago. And that if Takeshi just wanted to say what it is he remembers about On Kawara in general terms, that would be very interesting for me also.

Is it too much? I don't mean the email, I mean this tower.

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"Cocksure in the Highlands,
Cocksure right by here;
Cocksure in the Highlands,
A-chasing the deer."

How does the poem go on?

"Chasing the wild deer
And following the roe
Cocksure in the Highlands
Wherever I go."

This month of March, I read Inside Story by Martin Amis. Amis has gone from writing outrageous novels in his mid-years, where the protagonists tend to be wildly egotistical, to much calmer memoirs in his later years, where the ego of the writer is fully under control and his humanity shines through on every page.

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Yes, Martin Amis, or Little Keith as his friend Christopher Hitchens used to call him, has things in proportion these days. He knows full well what it feels like to be the centre of the universe: alive, alive-oh. But this knowledge is tempered by the information that everyone else is just as alive as he is. Of course, he always knew that, but he didn't choose to foreground it in his effervescent novels of the 1980s and 1990s. Now he does foreground his love for other human beings, friends and family, and it feels like a privilege to read his humbly masterful prose.

I'm on top of the hill now, the path wading through heather so that I don't have to. Down on the southern side of this particular Sidlaw (I'm walking the range of hills known as the Sidlaws) is a loch which boasts a fishing hut by the waterside. I walked there with my partner, Kate, and my friend, Claire, one day a few years ago. There remains every chance I will do that walk in the same company again.

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Yesterday, I wrote an email to Xiaohan Guo, the Chinese art student currently in France, who co-wrote GAME ON (8). I was giving my views on two stories she'd sent me. It's on my mind, because I feel I was too critical. Or at least that's how it might have come across. I will write to her again tonight, congratulating her on this paragraph from a recent email of hers…

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'When I came [to France] I also brought towels from China, very warm and soft with a fine texture, made by a famous towel factory in China, chosen by my mom. I never paid attention to a towel when I was in China. I cherished this towel, but it is now lost. I feel like an uprooted plant, these things I brought with me gradually disappearing from me as they metabolise, and I feel uneasy sometimes. It occurred to me that there is something very rewarding about painting the date on a towel or other objects. The date on my towel has gone, frozen at a certain point, but I can't remember when it disappeared, I wish I could.’

I walk on. As I walk, I realise why that paragraph of Xiaohan's came to mind when it did. It is because I'm approaching that spot in this walk which I think of as its apex. With me looking down at a small loch (not the one above), beyond which there is a road where I parked the car one day. The year wouldn't have been before 2008, when Mum went into a care home, and not after 2016, when my father died. Sometime in that eight-year period when, every second day, I would take Dad to the care home and help Mum into the car before taking them for a drive into the country. We had a hundred different routes and about the same number of stopping points. It's a period of my life I will never forget, just the three of us, still alive, still enjoying our (much reduced) family life in a little red car.

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On the day that we stopped where I can look down onto now, we noticed that there was an endless stream of cattle coming from a huge barn (you can make it out in the middle of the top edge of the above photo). One by one mostly, though sometimes walking in pairs, the cows walked past the car on a track that ran parallel to the road and maybe a hundred yards in front of where our car was parked. We were all fascinated by the sight, and I knew I could go for my walk and that Mum and Dad would have something to do when I was away. Count the cows. Or otherwise marvel at the sight of our fellow sentients.

Mum was 89 when she died in January, 2014. Dad was 89 and ten months when he died in January, 2016. Are those ten months important? Every day is important. Until the last one. Then nothing matters any more, or ever did matter. That's the deal we strike with the universe. That's the deal we have no choice but to strike with the oblivion that sadly, badly and madly lies at the heart of the universe.

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My mother was born in 1925 and my father in 1926. How about Takeshi Kawashima? If he is 93 now, as Junko has told me, then he was born in 1930. Just as On Kawara was born at the end of 1932. They all belong to a particular generation, and it is coming to an end. Though I expect Hiroko will live to be 100. Actually, I have no right to say that, as I know nothing about her state of health. However, I hope she lives for a long time, surrounded by peace and love.

I truly hope that my questions enliven Takeshi's day. Will it suit him to be taken back to the time he shared with his first wife in New York? He would have been 40 in 1970, in his absolute prime, as were On and Hiroko. As were they all. Tatsuo Kondo said in one of his letters to Tokyo that Nobu was one of his closest friends. I suspect On's closest friends at the time were Aoki, Nobu and Soroku. And Ansell Bray was clearly best of friends with Takeshi. Yes, I'm hoping that Takeshi will be happily revisiting his glory time in New York, and that he will be telling anecdotes to Junko; and that Junko will be taking notes so as not to miss any of the specific details. Because life lived is all in the detail. Detail best recollected in tranquility.

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"It seems that my camera is about to run out of charge." I say this to the pair of walkers, see below, out with their dogs. I can tell by their youthful high spirits that they will have no problem with my request that they pose with the Date Painting. They are students from Dundee who have left the library for the day in order to enjoy the fine weather and the outdoor air.

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That is more or less what I've done. But as I take the picture, it's as if I'm taking a photo of my brother (on the right, holding the dogs) and myself (on the left, holding the canvas) as we once were. Say forty years ago. Smiling lads in our mid-twenties exploring the countryside, without a substantial care in the world.

Hang on, there is a parallel here. When On Kawara and Hiroko were doing their tour of South America in 1968, On sent the following postcard to Kasper Konig:

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On must have liked the picture side of this communication. He sent about ten of the identical postcard to the mysterious Frank Donegan in January of 1969. Which inspires me to conclude with the second and superior photo I took of the Dundee lads…

From Argentina to Scotland; from 26 NOV. 1968 to MAR. 27, 2023; from horses to dogs; from gauchos to students. It all comes down to the same thing:

My heart's in the Highlands
My heart is right here.
My heart's in the Highlands,
A-chasing the deer.


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March 28, 2023. 12.34PM