While his identity remained hidden, his art is known by everyone: On Kawara, the Japanese conceptual artist, who never made public appearances or gave any interviews, let his work speak for himself. In self-determined seclusion, On Kawara pondered the strange coordinate called time and dedicated his oeuvre to it. Everything in his brittle work was devoted to its exploration. Its aimless flow, its arhythmic experience, its silent dominion over life. With his “Date Paintings”, Kawara managed to give conceptual art an emotional side.

On January 4, 1966, the artist created the first "Date Painting" in his adopted home of New York. Using acrylic paint and a fine brush, he painted the current date on a canvas, initially every day, later at greater intervals. The date was noted in the language of the country in which the nomad On Kawara was currently staying. Over 2000 pictures were created in this way, each one painted after the exact same scheme, hand-painted with calculated precision. For his “Date Paintings”, Kawara used a simple white lettering-set and a solid background color, variants of red, blue and grey. If the painting couldn’t be finished within a day, Kawara destroyed it. Later, Kawara added newspaper clippings from the local daily press, naming the consecutive series "I Read". His art is a sober numeric and individual diary in one, "a kind of meditation, an exercise useful for losing one's ego," as On Kawara put it.

At Documenta 2002, a man and a woman sat in a glass box and spoke an inconceivable number of annual dates into a microphone, divided into past and future. The series of numbers begins beyond any human imagination in the year 998 031 before Christ and ends in the year 1 001 995 after Christ. A crazy period of time, typed with a typewriter on 2000 pages in twenty thick volumes.

On Kawara's first date painting is from January 4, 1966. He was not able to paint his last one. On July 11, 2014, he died in New York at the age of 81.

On Kawara's work "04.Okt 76" is part of “100 days, 100 works – documenta artists (re-) discovered”-collection on misa.art, which releases one artwork by documenta-exhibited artists during this year's documenta fifteen. 

akg images