January 4 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the date painting series by the Japanese artist On Kawara’s (1932-2014)–“Today”. These acrylic on canvas paintings were each finished on the same day that they were begun. When the clock struck twelve on the date in question, if the painting was not finished, it was immediately destroyed. In order to make the painting, the artist used at least four coats of paint, mainly black, although he also used red and blue. The borders of the date inscribed in the painting were done manually, and then filled in with several coats of white paint. On Kawara used brushes, rulers, draughtsman’s squares and knives in order to perfect each of his works, Once the paining was finished, he stored it in a box specially made to size and in the first works of the series, he included a press clipping of the same date and place where the painting was done. About two thousand date paintings were finally made.

About these paintings, it has been said that they identify with the primitive images made by cave painters; that they are a memorial to the time it took to make them; that they are a meditation, and although they are not autobiographical, they are, in a manner of speaking a sort of self-portrait. [2]. The simplicity  of these works both pleases and disturbs me. For me it is surprising to see how something as obvious and commonplace as any date can become a work of art. But it is not about just paining a date on a canvas, because as an observer might say “anyone can do that”.  First you must have the idea [and let us remember that conceptual art is an art of ideas]. It is also important, among other things, for the work to have been painted on the same date it represents, and that makes it a testimony of life at that particular moment and limits greatly  its possibilities of being repeatable [although I think that its “reproducibility” or “originality” are less than relevant in this project].

On Kawara is a very significant point of reference for me, not only because of my sensitivity for  painting, the use of newspapers and the interest in the dates of publication, but because I consider him a master of conceptual art. His capability of having something quite simple imply considerable content and depth, as well as a clear statement on essential human aspects (for instance, the passing of time,) seem admirable to me. The discipline of his work and the dedication reflected on the date paintings are also an example worthy of being followed. Finally, I must say that it’s not that On Kawara’s paintings, or conceptual art in general, require an “explanation”; but awareness of the process and of the ideas that support the Project, make the experience and the enjoyment of these works something totally different.

[1] Watkins, Jonathan. Eternal Return On Kawara. Ikon Gallery, 2006.
[2] Dallas Museum of Art. On Kawara. Yale University Press, 2008.

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