On Kawara, Cumberland and Winehouse

• On Kawara daily states that he’s alive; Stuart Cumberland names works after dead people; and on the day Amy Winehouse died, I had a thought-provoking encounter with all three of them

Memento mori: On Kawara, Amy Winehouse and Stuart Cumberland

The offending tweets: Amy found dead, On still with us

• So, I was on one of Paul Carey-Kent’s excellent Saturday gallery route marches. It was late in the day. The sensitive artists had all left, and just three of us hard-core yompers had made it to Stuart Cumberland’s show of new paintings at The Approach. Correctly described by their creator as “posh decorations”, they had echoes of Keith Coventry and Gavin Turk in their concept, and quotes from Lichtenstein and Warhol in their bright stencils of dotty, drippy, hand-drawn circles. Most interesting were their titles: the names of people whose newspaper obituaries had been printed on the day they were made. There were only four works, and not much else to say about them, so after a short period we departed. As we trailed off to Wilkinson for the last stop of the day, I ruminated on the grey plastic Lidl sandals of a protagonist in an art video I’d seen earlier. I knew they were from Lidl because my brother, an impecunious writer, swears by them. As so often happens when you think about people, at that very moment my brother texted me. Thanks for the birthday card I’d sent him – and did I know Amy Winehouse was dead? Being a fiction writer, his relationship with the truth is at times tenuous, so I turned to Twitter to check it out. And, as shown above, under the first bald confirmation in my stream was an almost shocking counterpoint: On Kawara’s reassuring daily declaration that yes, he is still alive (at least I assume it’s On Kawara; he paints the current date every day of his life, so it seems perfectly plausible he now relentlessly tweets “I AM STILL ALIVE” every day of his life too). It occurred to me that in naming his works after obituaries dating from their day of production, Cumberland is almost creating anti-Kawaras – painted memorials as evidence of permanent snuffing out, rather than glorious, continuing existence. So whatever he finishes today could be called Lucien Freud; and tomorrow, Amy Winehouse. It’s a clever idea, and a haunting conceit. But it doesn’t make me feel any less upset about an avoidable, pointless, early death.

Stuart Cumberland: Leslie Nielsen, 2010. Oil on linen, 195 x 160 cm

On Kawara: JAN. 4, 1966, 1966, from Today series, 1966-. Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10 in / 20.3 x 25.4 cm

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