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Happy Accidents

Bruce Wang Citizen Wang Studio
Happy Accidents

Article By Bruce Wang @

Happy Accidents
Creative conversations with Bruce 16/04/22 by Naomi Elfred-Ross

As we often like to do, Bruce and I were discussing our art practice. I enjoy doing this, as its a great way to contemplate my own approach to my art, through sharing ideas and hearing Bruces thoughts and ideas. Bruce recently shared with me some self portraits he had taken, entitled Bad hair day. They are black and white shots with dramatic contrast, obscuring much of the image and yet, somehow, accentuating its impact as an artwork. The pictures have a surrealist quality.

Bruce described the photos as happy accidents. This got me thinking about the role of the supposed accidents in my own art practice. I put to Bruce that Freud had famously said that there are no accidents and I wondered if what had happened for Bruce was that perhaps the true artist emerges when we are playing and seeking less to impose expectation on the creative process, but rather allowing ourselves to explore and enjoy ourselves. Previous blogs have spoken of my own approach to painting, as I try to shake off the shackles of perfectionism and allow myself to be as curious as a child. I certainly find that I am always much happier with the end result of an artwork, be it painting or printmaking, when I have allowed myself to let go.

Bruce commented that he saw his camera as it if were a brush, which paints in a fraction of a second. He said he used to paint but gave it up as he used to think faster than he could paint. For this reason, the camera very much suits Bruce, as his tool for creative expression.

This is something I can relate to, as I often find I have several pieces of work on the go at the same time, which feels like a circular conveyor belt. I feel a sort of excited energy when I paint and I have no patience to allow paint to dry, so I move on to a new piece. I am very open to happy accidents and enjoy experimenting with different medium and mark making techniques to see what emerges. Having suffered recent bereavements, I feel my unconscious needs to be liberated and painting has become my strategy for allowing this to happen. In this context, I am very much drawing on some of the ideas of the surrealist movement, who sought to create opportunities for their unconscious processes to emerge and inform their work. For this, they would employ a variety of strategies, including doodling, collage, frottage, decalcomania and grattage. An artist friend of mine is very much embracing the surrealist movement and their approaches and is producing some fascinating results, which have generated some interesting discussions between he and I. I thank him for this, as it felt as though working alongside him has opened up a whole new world for me. I think, with the odd exception, it is vital that artists share ideas and do not work in isolation. Bruce once spoke about his image of himself as the lone artist, working alone, in his garret. I can see how the notion might have romantic connotations, but the reality, certainly for me, would be bad for my mental health and my artwork would quickly become stagnant.

To be honest, I cannot agree that Bruce does work in isolation, as the very nature of his photography is portraiture and unless these works are solely self portraits, which is not the case for Bruce, how could he be working alone? Bruce draws from his subjects for inspiration and new ideas, he meets people from all walks of life; their stories are carried in their faces, in their eyes. Bruce, also has a prolific presence on social media, so he is reaching out to thousands, potentially millions. This blog also speaks to the artists dependence on the input of others.

Artists reach out to the world and use their feedback to inform their next step, even if we dont realise we are. We are all social beings after all. I think, for me, it is about balance; time is needed among other artists or sharing work with the public, while there is then an equal need to be alone, to process what has been learned, to sketch/doodle, be that with a brush or camera; to play. Some paintings I have recently been working on could also be described as happy accidents. I came to the studio feeling somewhat flat and uninspired; just one of those days. So, perhaps as the surrealists might have done, I looked about the room, gathering random objects that jumped out at me, I didnt pause to consider why they did, they just did. I then placed the motley assembly on the table and selected painting surfaces that had already been used and had been reprimed, so they had a texture, I selected four. I like the idea of working on surfaces that already have a history. I then randomly selected colours to work with (I used acrylics and inks) and initially created a background, using different markmaking techniques to apply the paint, moving from one piece to the next. Following this a rapidly painted shapes that caught my eye from each of the object in front of me, rotating the surface each time, building up layers of shapes and colour. I constantly moved from one piece to the next, as paint dried, so there was no momentum lost, which felt vital in preventing my inclination towards perfectionism from getting involved and ruining my fun. I was so pleased with the end result, as what I could see was exactly what I was experiencing as I worked; it had been such an intense, vibrant and joyful experience, quite removed from the mood I had arrived with. I left the studio feeling buoyed on to keep exploring, I feel like Im on the right path.