The “happy accident” is a misnomer and actually has very little to do with the accidental. Relying on it to resolve a painting is like trying to win the lottery. It can however do wonderful things if orchestrated properly. But orchestrating it successfully is not as simple as the result may imply. What looks easy, even to the trained eye, is usually anything but. This is why much of the paint I apply ends up on the wall or floor…either as a result of missing the canvas altogether while slinging a cake-lifter full of paint, or having just scraped a week’s worth of paint from the surface. Both are about as uneconomical as you can get, but then for me painting is not about economy of material or effort…they are merely means to an end. I am amazed when I see some painters’ palettes which look like the bottom of a bird-cage that hasn’t been cleaned in years. I wonder how they can possibly conjure up anything other than a colour that resembles…well, shit. How can they properly load a brush or palette knife I ask. Anyone who paints in oils is well-aware of that taupish colour that oil paint so loves to become if not handled with respect. This is probably the real reason amateurs and poseurs resort to using acrylics…siting health reasons, free radicals, volatiles, quick drying times and the like. But I digress. Setting the stage for the happy accident involves knowing exactly how the paint will react at a given viscosity. Painting in oils is about playing various viscosities off against each other…particularly when painting wet into wet and trying to avoid that previously mentioned shitty colour. Having recently watched that fabulous documentary of Gerhard Richter squeeging his way to success, I noted that the pigments were carefully prepared and applied with authority…not always, by his own admission, with success however. It can never always be successful, so calling the times it is so a happy accident, depends on how happy one feels at the end of the process. I suspect Mr Richter also has much paint that turns to shit and ends up on the floor…probably a hundred times more than I do. Perhaps this is the reason his paintings are so much more expensive than mine. (sic)
Brian Bradshaw once made the annotation “Plasterer” in the margin next to one of Frank Auerbach’s paintings in a catalogue of British artists in the early 60’s. While some of Auerbach’s early works had a certain resemblance to a thickly plastered plank, the difference between Frank and a plasterer is that Mr Auerbach removed a lot of what he applied when it wasn’t “working” and kept repeating the process until it did indeed work. This is something a plasterer strives not to do…it’s just not consistent with the art of plastering and would be considered incompetence by anyone in the trade. Not so with painting.