Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Kawara - 29,771 days

Conceptual artist On Kawara died on July 10th 2014 at the age of 81 after having lived for 29,771 days.

Among the different works and series he produced, probably the most well known are the ‘Today’ series of paintings. Beginning on January 4th 1966, he made a long series of paintings that each recorded the day it was created.

The paintings were made according to eight standard sizes, all horizontal in orientation. The date on which each painting was made was rendered in white Liquitex on canvas. The background colours varied somewhat through the years.

The dates were carefully painted by hand in the language of the country in which the panting was made. If the country happened not to use the Roman alphabet, Kawara would instead use Esperanto.

The whole series was recorded in a journal along with a swatch of the colour used and also marked on a calendar.

I find this series intriguing. When viewing the paintings they generally appear clinically objective except if you were to see one that coincided with a particularly relevant date in the viewers’ life. Suddenly that painting would take on added significance.

The series appears to document Kawara’s life on earth, except that he didn’t paint one every day. On those days he did paint, if he was unable to finish the day’s work, he would destroy the painting as each one needed to be finished on the day stated in the painting. So, the paintings that do exist are a testament to his existence on those days…but what about the missing dates? Did he exist? This harks back to philosophical questions about perception and reality. If we no longer remember an event in our lives, we doubt it ever happened. Does the world behind us exist if we do not perceive it? Or does it only appear when we look in that direction…if a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?

In one sense Kawara has not left, the Twitter bot that he set up before his death has successfully tweeted on more than one occasion to proclaim that he is still alive, his work lives on, he lives on.

(Images courtesy of

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